Citizens United?


This may come as a shock to you, but I read some political news.  You know, accidentally.  I swear, I’m just online for the porn, but then there’s a pop-up ad for an article about Immigration Law and I can’t help myself and I just have to click.  Frankly, it makes me feel dirty.

So here we are at the beginning of a week that is going to see a lot (technical term: ass ton) of Supreme Court decisions handed down, on a figurative rainbow of controversial topics, from immigration to health-care reform, all of which interests me, yet the only decision that I think is worth my time to comment on is the decision not to make a decision.

That’s actually not accurate, but I liked the way it sounded so I’m going with poetics over verisimilitude.  Sue me.

What I’m talking about is the Supreme Court’s choice not to revisit the infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that led to the coining of that wonderfully counter-intuitive phrase, “Corporations are people.”

If you’re like me, just hearing that phrase trips your gag reflex.  It’s so clearly not true that it boggles the mind that it gets said with a straight face.  Corporations are corporations.  People are people.  I mean, who ever heard of making Soylent Green out of Corporations?  It’s preposterous.

But, of course, there is some logic to what people (or is it corporations?) mean when they say “Corporations are people.”  As in the well-trod clip of Romney condescendingly explaining to a heckler that corporate pockets are still people pockets, so there, plllfft!  The point being that corporations aren’t machines that have come to life, gained sentience (yet) and engaged in an insiduous plan to steal control of the government by putting one of their own in office, their very own Robot Overlord Model Now External Yuppie.

No, corporations are run by real people with real human needs and, presumably, real human families that are supported by those profits.  So, while we aren’t allowed to peer into corporations and see how the sausage is made, so to speak, or how that sausage is distributed among the CEOs, or how that sausage is then funneled through the Caymans and then spent on a third sausage pool for the fourth sausage mansion in the hills overlooking Los Sausageles, we have to respect that there are people involved.  Horrible, horrible people.

The truly decent intent underlying the Citizens United decision is that its meant to protect the rights of people.  It allows us to pool our funds together and throw our support behind a cause or person, making sure that our individual voices aren’t buried underneath the oppressive weight of a louder, richer voice that hypothetically could arise from some sort of organization with means of spending unlimited funds in order to ensure its interests are kept.  I’m not sure what you’d call that type of organization.

Corporations, anyway, are just a form of individuals coming together to have their voices heard, so the Supreme Court has decided.

This is one contentious debate where most people (non-Corporate ones, at least) across the political spectrum agree that Corporations should not have the same rights as people, especially since they do not share the same legal obligations (like having to pay library fines).  On the internet where people compare other people to Hitler for liking Justin Timberlake, the plebeians don’t seem all that worked up to defend corporate personhood.  Perhaps that’s just perception bias on my part (I admit to not spending a lot of time in the Fox News comment sections; I’m not a masochist), but it does seem that very few people, whether conservative or liberal, are particularly keen on corporations being able to repeatedly thrust their throbbing cash wads into the political process, whether the process wants it or not (though, it was asking for it wearing that short skirt). 

I think even a lot of those people who believe the Free Market requires absolutely no restrictions still balk at the thought of a corporate-sponsored government.

That is, the regular citizens feel that way.  Politicians of the right-leaning persuasion (and CEOs of large corporations) tend to think we’re a freer society when Corporations can speak for us.

Because, as we all know, everyone working at Wal-Mart has the same political beliefs and so would like their corporate bosses to speak for them with all that money that’s been saved by not having to pay fair wages.

The same people who say that corporations are people, because people run corporations, see no irony in decrying Government as a faceless entity that accomplishes nothing (usually while being a member of that faceless entity).  Well, governments are people, too.  They are elected people.  Elected by Corporations, mostly.  So, if the government is ineffective, might it not be the result of it being put in place by the stupidest of all people, the Corporations.

Well, the Supreme Court doesn’t see it that way because they found that Corporate money does not constitute “a risk of corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

The logic, I guess, goes like this:  The Government is corrupt if it’s run by bribe-taking politicians.  But corporate cash isn’t a bribe.  It’s just large sums of money given in order to make sure their interests are met.

It appears to me that the process is just one self-serving cycle: The Little Guy needs a way to have his voice heard over the clatter of the Big Guys, so he has to unite with other Little Guys to be heard.  But the only reason he needs to be heard is because those Big Guys are allowed to make a clatter in the first place.  If Big Guys had to give their money and voice their opinions as individuals, there wouldn’t be any Big Guys or Little Guys, just guys.  And dolls.

No, it’s probably not that simple.  And I’m sure someone out there can explain why I’m idiot for not seeing that and hopefully find a way to mention Hitler in the process.

But I wonder, if my individual vote (and voice) is sufficient for me, why isn’t it enough for all those people inside corporations?

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3 thoughts on “Citizens United?

  1. The phrase “corporations are people” didn’t start with Citizens United. It’s much, much older. Search “corporate personhood” and “Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad” on Wikipedia. Basically, the 14th amendment was interpreted in the late 19th century to mean corporations could be defined as a person. This laid the groundwork for the Citizens Unied decision, and it has allowed corporations to do such things as avoid full disclosure (via “violation of individual privacy”).

    Here are two great videos about it:

    “The Corporation”, a film by Joel Bakan (it’s also a book), also does a great job explaining how and why corporations cannot be trusted with such power in our democracy.en

    This, combined with other campaign finance reform, is the major political issue of our time – it dwarfs everything else. If we don’t solve this, there is no hope for our democracy. Unfortunately, it passes the public consciousness with barely a peep in the media. Hmm, I wonder why?

    And to the “free market” crowd – it’s also a direct threat to the free market. Imagine a company or particular industry can write the laws that give it inordinate advantages over others. This happens all the time these days. There is no true “free market”.

    • Thank you for the information and videos, I had no idea that the “Corporations are People” concept was so old. I guess I should have realized it, though. I’m a big believer in not assuming that our personal moment in history is the most important/dreadful, so it’s a shame I didn’t investigate this more.

      All in all, though, I think we’re on the same page. Whether corporations have been “people” for 15 years, 150 years or 1500 years, the real issue is that money controls everything, and that money (like genes or cells) has found a way to propagate itself. It’s very Darwinian, but in a distressing and terrible way.

      I’d like to comment more thoroughly on your comments, but I’ve got a lot of writing to do tonight and I’ve had a lot to drink, so I’m not going to be able to sufficiently respond. But I’ll check out the videos another night and try to offer a useful response.

      Thanks for reading and responding, I appreciate your insights.

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