Guest Post: If Corporations Cannot Vote, Should They Have The Right To Spend Money In Elections?
Submitted by Damien Hoffman of Wall St. Cheat Sheet
An irony of Shakespearean proportions is unfolding as I write this: the Town Hall discourse revolves around complaints government is getting too big, yet in the quieter halls of the US Supreme Court corporations are on the verge of capturing the largest swath of power since they were ruled legal persons. Let’s take a closer look before we wake up in an Orwellian distopia:
The Issue: Whether corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money in election campaigns?
According to UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, the nation’s leading Constitutional Law expert, “Previously the Supreme Court upheld the ability of the government to restrict corporate expenditures in political campaigns. Now it appears there are five votes on the Court — Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito — who want to overrule those precedents.”
Although corporations have stuffed cash into tons of loopholes such as Political Action Committees, a change in the current law would allow corporations to siphon off money from their wealth-creating machines and directly turn politicians into outsourced independent contractors. If you are pissed about the financial crisis and what Washington allowed to happen, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The proponents of expanding corporate speech insist the current law is an unconstitutional abridgment of First Amendment protected Freedom of Speech. However, speech is curtailed in instances where it can be an extreme detriment to our society (as opposed to our feelings). For example, we do not have the right to go into a crowded place and scream, “Fire!”
Before offering more examples of limited speech rights, this begs several incredibly critical questions about the society we are trying to create under the Constitution. First and foremost, should the legal fiction called a “corporation” be inherently endowed with the full set of rights entitled to human beings under the Constitution? If so, we are saying corporations are now equal citizens under the law and our society should boldly reflect their values and interests even if they compete with those of human beings.
I immediately wonder why corporations even need unlimited Freedom of Speech rights. They already have reasonable Freedom of Speech protections (First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978)). Further, everyone who works at a corporation and all the shareholders already have the highest level of Freedom of Speech rights protected by the Constitution. If we give corporations the same Freedom of Speech rights as humans, we are functionally giving extra powers of speech to corporate executives in the C-Suite. After watching how they ran our economy into a shitpit, should we allow this handful of business people to use their out-sized coffers to drown out the incredibly less financed individual citizens?
If we allow robots to influence elections, that society will reflect the values of robots. If you let corporations influence elections, that society will reflect the values of corporations. Unlike human beings, corporations do not have values. Instead, by law, corporations are legal fictions which operate solely to produce profits for shareholders. Therefore, human values such as life, liberty, happiness, health, spirituality/religion, kindness, relationships, the environment, etc. will all compete with the myopic legally mandated interest of corporations.
Given that the Founders never once mentioned the word ‘corporation’ in the Bill of Rights, I find it impossible to believe they intended to elevate businesses to the level of human being. Such an expansion of stature is like remaking the movie The Terminator and substituting the androids with C-Suite controlled parchment charters against which humankind battles for survival as we know it.
There are many other issues for you to chew on while daydreaming through your next meeting or commute:
Should corporations influence the electoral process if they do not have the right to vote and are not human beings?
Can corporations spend money supporting political persons and issues which conflict with the wishes of shareholders?
Is bringing corporations under the protection of the Constitution the most extreme example of judicial activism?
In the weeks to come we will address these questions with some exciting interviews. Until then, I highly recommend this quick read …