With apologies to Jesus and the Gospels, in regard to the Tucson City Council and its decision to kowtow to liberal rantings about the evils of corporations – forgive them, father, for they know not what they do.
The City Council, Tuesday, unanimously passed a resolution to support an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution stripping corporations of a legal fiction called corporate personhood.
It’s unfortunate the council didn’t also invite business scholars to the meeting to explain what a legal person is, why the Supreme Court in 1886 granted legal persons (as opposed to natural persons such as those sentient beings reading this opinion) some of the same protections granted natural persons under the Constitution, how those protections helped make America the greatest economy in the world and how stripping corporations of their standing as legal persons would gut capitalism as we know it and devolve the U.S. economy into something akin to the Stone Age barter system.
The anti-personhood effort has grown out of outrage to the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision in which the court uncorked the bottle on corporate political campaign donations. In a 5-4 decision, the court argued that limitations on corporate campaign spending violated corporations’ rights to free speech.
The decision, though controversial, was correct, given the precedents set by the court in past decisions, namely the 1974 Buckley decision in which the court equated campaign contributions with speech. If corporations are granted some protections of the Constitution, namely the 1st, 4th and 14th amendments, then corporations have a right to free speech. And if money is speech, then corporations have the right to talk with their checkbooks all they want.
There are enormous economic benefits to legal personhood. To try to kill off legal persons simply because one aspect of the legal theory is having perceived deleterious effects on the political process is foolish and dangerous.
Without legal person protections, it will be much harder for corporations to enter into contracts, sue or be sued in court, take on debt or own real property. Without the due process protections of the 14th Amendment, any government could discriminate against corporations at their will, making it difficult, if not impossible for corporations to do business across the country. A national company would be subject to the whims of elected bodies from city to city, county to county and state to state.
Investing in corporations would become extremely risky because each individual owner of a corporation – stockholders – would be subject to liability if the corporation were to cause harm to someone, rather than the single legal person, the corporation, bearing all the liability.
The problem is not corporate personhood when it comes to elections. The problem is anonymous speech. While the court has repeatedly protected anonymous speech, it left the door open in the Citizens United ruling for compulsory donor disclosure.
That’s where the effort should be made in response to Citizens United. Force all those spending money to affect an election to reveal themselves.
All the sneaky, underhanded, mud-slinging shenanigans by SuperPACs funded by shell companies laundering money from sham companies stuffed with anonymous corporate campaign donations would be greatly curtailed if a little light was shined on those giving the money.
Like cockroaches scurrying in the kitchen when the light is turned on, they’ll run for cover.
Fear of corporations taking over the country is tin-foil hat paranoia. Corporations don’t vote, we do. They can spend all the money they want on dirty campaigns but at the end of the day, we’re the ones coloring in the little bubbles on the ballot.
Killing capitalism because corporations can spend money on elections is stupid. Voting for candidates whose views you support and who you expect to govern well is smart.
The city council might want to rethink its decision and choose to be smart rather than stupid.