Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Corporate Influence On Elections

     On October 24, 2011, I wrote about the ridiculous decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, “In January 2010, using a logic that defied common sense, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission five Supreme Court Justices suddenly transformed corporations into human beings, with a power that flesh and blood humans do not have: they can spend unlimited amounts of money in order to buy elections.”
     Although most of the comments I have received have been favorable, I have been taken to task by “Pennsylvania's #1 Conservative Jungle Cat,” Phil Gruber. According to him, “American law has long held that corporations should be treated as people in the eyes of the law. After all, a corporation is just a group of people who use shared capital to make a profit. Grunenberger simply feels broadsided by facts he did not know.”
     While it is true that from a legal standpoint, corporations can do many of the same things that natural persons do – buy and sell property, hire and fire, sue and be sued, and so on – there are limits. Among other things, they cannot vote in any elections, run for office, go to jail or testify in court. Why? Because they are “artificial” persons for the purpose of conducting a business.
     After the American Revolution, corporations remained small institutions, chartered at the state level for specific public purposes, such as banking, education, religion, helping the poor, constructing roads or canals, etc. Corporations could only exist for a limited time, could not make any political contributions, and could not own stock in other companies. Their owners were responsible for criminal acts committed by the corporation, and the doctrine of limited liability for shareholders did not yet exist. Governments kept a close watch on how these corporations were being run, regularly revoking charters if corporations were not serving the public interest.
     Slowly though, corporations were gaining power. Arising out of the Industrial Revolution, a new wealthy class began influencing policy making, changing the rules governing the corporations they owned. Charters grew longer and less restrictive. The doctrine of limited liability – allowing corporate owners and managers to avoid responsibility for harm and losses caused by the corporation – began to appear in state corporate laws. Charter revocation became less frequent, and government functions shifted from keeping a close watch on corporations to encouraging their growth.
     Now we are in the midst of the first Presidential race since the power of unlimited political contributions was granted to corporations. How is it working out?
     A Las Vegas casino mogul has pledged $5.0 million to a Super PAC for Newt Gingrich. That PAC, Winning Our Future, intends to spend $3.4 million on an ad campaign attacking Romney’s role in eliminating jobs when the private investment group he once led — Bain Capital — bought and sold companies.
     The Factchecker gave the Bain documentary from which this ad was drawn Four Pinocchios: “[W]ithout evidence, the film claims that “tens of thousands” of people have lost their jobs because of actions taken by Romney and Bain Capital. ... Only one of the four case studies directly involves Romney and his decision-making, while at least two are completely off point.”
     The point I want to make is that one corporation's contribution can have an influence mega-times the influence of a natural person, and it need not be based on facts! No one is responsible! If a corporate board wants to back a candidate who will favor, say, not levying an extraction tax on natural gas, it can contribute many times $5.0 million to back his campaign without having to account to anyone.
     It seems to me that if a corporation really is to be considered a natural person, its contribution should be limited to the same amount as that of a natural person: $2,500.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

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