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Corporations Are Not Persons!

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Wall St. Protest against corporate influence in politicsJamie Raskin, a professor of constitutional law at American University Washington College of Law, wrote in 2009 for NPR that the Citizen’s United case was a gross miscarriage of justice. That corporations are not “persons” but are artificial entities created by states and the federal government for legal purposes, such as patent and trademark protection, taxes, suit adjudication, and other legal purposes. Certainly not for privileges and rights guaranteed to natural persons under the 1st, 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments.

However, organizations such as the Center for Competitive Politics – a so-called conservative 501(c)3 – has made it their mission to overturn 200 years of judicial law that barred corporations from massively influencing elections and public policy.

The following is an excerpt from Professor Raskin’s NPR editorial in 2009, before the decision on Citizens Untied vs FEC was handed down.

A corporation is not, nor has it ever been, a constitutional person with voting rights; it is not, not has it ever been, a democratic citizen; nor has it ever been a constituent member of “We the People ” The founders did not mention the word “corporation” in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, and only a handful of corporations were even in existence at the time the Constitution was written.

The corporation is not a membership organization but an “artificial entity,” as the Supreme Court has called it, chartered by the state or federal governments to serve public purposes. Legally speaking, it has no independent constitutional standing outside of the rights of the people who own it — and they already have the right as citizens to contribute and spend on campaigns. The idea now being promoted that CEOs have a First Amendment right to take other people’s money out of corporate treasuries to spend on politics is outlandish.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in the Dartmouth College case that, “A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of creation confers upon it, either expressly, or as incidental to its very existence.”

In our time, Justice Byron White pointed out that we endow private corporations with all kinds of legal benefits — “limited liability, perpetual life and the accumulation, distribution and taxation of assets” — in order to “strengthen the economy generally.” But he emphasized that a corporation has no right to convert its economic resources into political power. As he put it, “The state need not permit its own creation to consume it.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist agreed.

The sovereign actors of American democracy — we, the people — have also understood that business corporations, which are magnificent agents of capital accumulation and wealth maximization in the economic sphere, pose extreme dangers in the political sphere. Our best leaders have wanted business to prosper but never to govern.

We should be as clear-eyed today as Abraham Lincoln was in 1864 when he said that “as a result of the war, corporations have become enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow. The money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its rule by preying upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is concentrated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

And we should be as passionate in defense of popular government as Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1816: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance the laws of our country.”

To add to the above article, the American Constitution Society produced a paper on corporate Constitutional history ((pdf), proving unequivocally that the founders never intended for corporations to have the same rights under the Constitution as natural persons. In fact, they argued against corporations having these same rights.

The paper states:

James Wilson – signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the Continental Congress, a drafter of the Constitution, and one of the nation’s first six Supreme Court justices – expressed a prevailing view at the time that corporations were to be limited and constrained: A corporation is described to be a person in a political capacity created by the law. . . . It must be admitted, however, that, in too many instances, those bodies politick have, in their progress, counteracted the design of their original formation. . . . This is not mentioned with a view to insinuate, that such establishments ought to be prevented or destroyed: I mean only to intimate, that they should be erected with caution, and inspected with care.22

James Madison viewed corporations as “a necessary evil” subject to “proper limitations and guards.”23 Thomas Jefferson hoped to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

“[T]hroughout the greater part of our history,” the American people, state and federal governments, and the Supreme Court knew that corporations remained subject to democratic control.25 President Andrew Jackson warned of partisan activity by the second Bank of the United States corporation: “[T]he question is distinctly presented whether the people of the United States are to govern through representatives chosen by their unbiased suffrages or whether the money and power of a great corporation are to be secretly exerted to influence their judgment and control their decisions.”26 President Martin Van Buren spoke “of the dangers to which the free and unbiased exercise of political opinion . . . would be exposed by any further increase of the already overgrown influence of corporate authorities.”27

These warnings continued as corporations became dominant in our economy. “Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters,” wrote President Grover Cleveland.28 Theodore Roosevelt sought to end “a riot of individualistic materialism” and remediate the “total absence of governmental control [that] led to a portentous growth in the financial and industrial world both of natural individuals and of artificial individuals – that is, corporations.”29 He successfully called on Congress to enact federal restrictions on corporate political contributions, stating: “Let individuals contribute as they desire; but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly.”30

As noted by this paper, the Founders and subsequent Supreme Court majorities did not intend for corporations to have the rights and privileges the current SCOTUS increasingly has given them. Citizens Untied was the first in a line of decisions that has stripped natural citizens’ rights away while increasing the power and influence of corporations. If democracy is to remain for all American citizens – rather than for artificial legal entities – voters must make their voices heard by demanding a Constitutional amendment eliminating the ability of these artificial legal entities from donating or contributing to political campaigns – effectively removing money from politics; thereby returning politics to the people – and striking down corporate personhood once and for all.

Related information:

Get Money Out Campaign
Free Speech for People Amendment
Reclaiming Democracy – Restoring Citizen Authority over Corporations


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