“Corporate personhood” isn’t just a buzzphrase uttered down at Occupy Wall Street. Last week, New York City became the fifth American metropolis to agree that corporations should not have the same rights, and constitutional protection of those rights, as individual citizens.
Following similar legislation passed by Los Angeles, Albany, Oakland and Boulder, City Council’s Resolution 1172 called out 2010’s controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision as completely effed up, resolving to support a constitutional amendment “specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech.” Bam. Non-binding as it is, that’s some pretty powerful consensus against corporate power run amok.
The Supreme Court decision that Resolution 1172 references, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, gave corporate personhood a political reality. The Supreme Court decided that corporations need not have their spending for political purposes regulated or restricted, as hindering that would somehow obstruct free “political speech.” That means that corporations, then, possess freedom of expression through first amendment rights, the identical freedom ensured to individual American citizens. The day that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 majority opinion, President Obama pledged to get to work forming a congressional response, calling the decision “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” For obvious reasons, fighting against corporate personhood became a pet cause of the Occupy movement, some of which showed up to the Council’s proceedings.
The idea that people remain distinct and different from corporations is pretty straightforward. Corporations, minus the newfangled addendum of “corporate social responsibility,” are consistently, purely motivated by profit margins. Individual human beings, who aren’t made up of corporate power structures, pursue activities and political affiliations that might not have to do with maximizing moolah. We have thoughts, feelings, idiosyncrasies, personal ethics, morals and passions. Ensuring the democratic process, therefore, has historically meant ensuring that the individual voter can express these things through the ballot.
Speaking of ballots, and potential future ones, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich feel, meh, otherwise. In a statement that seems particularly chilling to announce at an Iowa state fair, Romney told a crowd last year that, “Corporations are people, my friend.” Shudder. Another bit of GOP trivia for the long ride to November, 2012.
Follow Sydney Brownstone on Twitter @sydbrownstone