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Corporations are not people and money is not speech

By Supreet Minhas | Columbia Spectator | January 31, 2010

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned century-old restrictions on corporate spending in elections under the guise of protecting First Amendment free speech rights. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” This argument of the majority decision rests on the notions that corporations are covered by the same free speech protections as individual citizens and that campaign donations or financing are the same as speech.

Corporations, however, are inherently not the same as individuals and thus cannot have the same protections as individuals. There are a slew of laws that protect corporations and their interests in the arena for which they are by definition formed—namely the marketplace. The laws that govern corporations and the rights enjoyed by them are distinct from the laws and rights of individuals. A corporation, for example, can enter into contracts like an individual, but unlike an individual, a corporation’s members can be protected by limited liability so their personal assets are not at stake.

If a corporation, then, is a distinct legal entity governed by different laws than an individual is, corporations are not protected under the First Amendment in the same way that individuals are protected. Corporations, especially in their most powerful and wealthy incarnations, are exponentially more influential than most individuals in America. The restrictions on corporate spending in elections that were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court were meant to redress this power balance between average individuals and unduly influential businesses. Corporations already have a plethora of ways to influence politics, from political action committees to lobbyists on Capitol Hill. The framers of the Bill of Rights wanted to protect the voices of the trampled, not amplify the voices of the elite.

The other part of the Supreme Court’s premise for its decision is that the First Amendment free speech clause applies to campaign funding. While speech can be interpreted loosely as any form of expression, such an open, ambiguous definition would create a myriad of problems with all kinds of laws. An architect has a vision of a building: it is his art, his self expression, yet he cannot ignore local zoning laws that, for instance, restrict the height of his building. Should he sue the state for violation of his free speech, his right to expression? Equating money with speech also opens the door to sundry ludicrous claims by, for instance, an employer who objects to minimum wage laws since he’d like to express that his employees are only worth paying $3 an hour. There have to be restrictions on what constitutes speech to prevent a bastardization of the term and an overly liberal interpretation of the First Amendment.

A corporation already has the power to issue a statement in favor of a candidate or policy through its political action committees, and individual members of a business are welcome to contribute money as well. However, allowing a corporation to use its vast profits to directly finance the election or to remove a candidate compromises the democratic notion of a free and fair election. There are unseemly ties even now between politicians and various industries, but this new ruling would make such connections more robust and give them a veneer of legitimacy. A politician financed by a business would become completely beholden to its political agenda and not to the voters.

It’s not only the independence of politicians that’s at stake, but also the independence of our judges, who are at the very least expected to be impartial. Many states still use elections to appoint judges, which leaves them vulnerable to the influence of political spending. In a recent speech at a law school conference, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor worried about the impact of corporate campaign funding in judicial elections, saying that “judicial campaigning makes last week’s decision in Citizens United an increasing problem for maintaining an independent judiciary.”

Two cornerstones of our democracy—free elections and an independent judiciary—are threatened by the Supreme Court’s activist and meddling decision. The case could have been decided much more narrowly in favor of Citizens United, but instead, the majority of the justices decided to expand the case to champion the rights of big money over the interest of the American people. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (D-PA) introduced the Fair Elections Now Act last March. It would prohibit contributions from political action committees and would match individual donations, limited to $100, on a 4:1 basis so that fundraising focuses on the people. Such a system has been in place in New York City since the 1988 Campaign Finance Act. The rest of the country is long overdue to follow. Never before has the fight for public financing been more necessary.

The author is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science. She is a prospective law student.

February 1, 2010 - Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance

22 Comments »

  1. Outstanding article!

    I have a satirical “what if…” take on my blog:

    http://wp.me/pKBYM-aB

    Comment by qualityshows | February 1, 2010 | Reply

  2. The 14th amendment, which was one of the Reconstruction amendments added following the War of Northern Aggression was never legally ratified by the States and has caused more problems than all the other post-war amendments combined. If my memory serves me right, corporations were declared by the Supreme Court to be 14th Amemdment citizens during the late 1800s or early 1900s. In case you are unfamiliar with the wording of this amendment, it basically made everyone a citizen (and subject) of the United States. Prior to the War, all individuals were citizens of the State within which they resided and no one was a citizen of the United States nor were they subject to the jurisdiction of the United States except for those who resided in the District of Columbia or resided within one of the territories under the jurisdiction of the United States. The main purposes of the War of Northern Aggression was to destroy the soverienty of the individual States and reduce the status of every American to that of a subject under the control and jurisdiction of the United States government. The founding fathers set up our government as a loose confederation of Sovereign States with the States exercising all meaningful polical power. They never invisioned or intended any effective political power to reside in Washington. Things will only get much worse until We the People throw the theives and money changers out of Washington and restore our government back to what it once was.

    Comment by plumbbob | February 1, 2010 | Reply

  3. The word person means corporation in law. It is not that corporations are not people, it is that people are not corporations. We have been tricked into accepting a corporate identity[ALL CAPS]. Look at your drivers license. Every time we go to court,we go as a corporation, not as a natural person.The first corporations were governments. Looked at logically, limited liability for a corporation is the extension of sovereign immunity to the king after he was no longer king. The same ruling elite families are still in control and that goes all the way back to the first known about extraterrestrials[anunaki] that the Sumerian documents talk about.The same group also take the credit or blame for all the religions and secret societies.

    Comment by lenny | February 1, 2010 | Reply

  4. What difference does it make? Really. Think about it, the whole entire Congress and Senate are a dog and pony show, the real power brokers who control it all are in the shadows, working the deals, doing what they want, with the AL-CIA-DA and MOSSAD out there killing everyone who disagrees with these shadow government assholes who truly run it all.

    So, why is it so important now to be so upset over this shit? Why now? After more than two hundred years of absolute proof that the politicians are just a fancy hand puppet show to distract us from the REAL WHEELING AND DEALING IN THE BACK ROOMS elsewhere, why does it matter now that the total contempt of democracy is being demonstrated by SCOTUS in this ruling? The assholes on this court know that the real guys with their hands on the power levers of the system aren’t in the Congress and the Senate.

    When the Rule of Law became OBSOLETE in the world, in general, and everything became more or less ROLLERBALL only this time, on STEROIDS, for and by the CORPORATIONS, why did this sole ruling make all that much difference? Why do all of you assholes think that this ‘lagging’ indicator of the end of any semblances of democratic government makes any difference.

    Hypothetically, let’s say this ruling had not happened. Do any of you think that the corporations and the moneyed influences in the shadows wouldn’t have continued to exert any and all of their will on the rest of us?

    For those of you who think it’d been different, I suggest you find a remedy to your TOTAL NAIVETE!!!!!!!!!!

    this ruling didn’t make one iota of a difference. It was always like this, long before SCOTUS basically said to corporations; “go ahead, do what the fuck you want…the little people are just cannon fodder for your wars, chattel for you to barter and sell at your leisure..”

    democracy was always an illusion. We never ever had any control, ever. making such a mountain out of this mole hill is absolutely unwarranted, in light of the fact that for the whole entire 230 year history of this republic, the fat cats and the rich oligarchs never needed any Congress or Senate to do what they pleased, under any circumstances, ever. They just did it.

    The government you were looking at was a chimera, not real..

    the sooner you all come to that realization, the sooner we can get on with less pissing and moaning over a mere joke of a technicality that was always the case from day one, and was not foisted on us by the SCOTUS, the court only quite belatedly declared to us what has been happening for a long long long, corrupt time.

    Comment by Oh, Come On Already! | February 1, 2010 | Reply

  5. I’ve got a mad crush on Exxon, and Exxon has one on me, wedding bells in the spring – a bit quick I know, but our love can’t be denied. Exxon is a little shy, so don’t expect any public announcements, we’re thinking a quiet wedding in Reno.

    Comment by Bill | February 2, 2010 | Reply

  6. Any business is simply a group of individuals (small or large) exercising their individual rights collectively. Therefore, any business has the same rights as those individuals (except, of course, the right to vote, which is reserved to the individuals themselves). The freedom to dispose of one’s wealth as one sees fit comes along with the freedom to earn it. If an aggregate of individuals has earned money, it should be free to decide how do dispose of that money. The real problem is not that businesses can donate to campaigns, it is that the government has been allowed to meddle in business – i.e. that the government can grant some favor in return for that money. We need separation of commerce and state in the same way and for the same reasons as we have separation of church and state. I also find it interesting that the author chose as examples two laws (zoning and minimum wage) that also violate individual rights. The first violates property rights and the second violates the rights of individuals to contract freely.

    Comment by David | February 2, 2010 | Reply

    • under your jackoffian analysis, nobody should interfere with anything anyone does at all. say, if I were in a crowd, with a saturday night special, and I want to ‘free speech’ your butt with it much in the same way the CIA free speeched Bobby Kennedy in L.A. one night, that’s fine, because to interfere with me is interfering with my right to free speech you.

      that’s the critical flaw with you libertarian assholes….you think that there is no societal role for any rule of law, that anything that fits under ‘ends justify means’ rationale shouldn’t ever be interfered with, just let everyone do whatever they so choose, and it all works out. That Ayn Rand bullshit doesn’t work, dude! It works right up to the point where someone else pays a price for your ‘whatever i wanna do’ freedom crosses a line and then interfere with my freedom.

      rules and laws SHOULD exist in the framework of society strictly to keep in check that good old “I can do anything I want to and it’s just me being free” line of horse shit.

      Corporations do not have any rights, dorkus! globally, they have been the reason why there are so many failed states, pillaged by the will of corporatocrats based in the U.S.S.A. who think that freedom of their speech translates into; “do what we tell you or we’ll bomb you to get your resources we need” kind of raping and pillaging.

      someday, I hope some asshole fucks you with their ‘free speech’ and then we’ll hear your sorry ass whine about how the law let you down. What law? In your libertarian world of ‘I can do what I want’, the only rule of law is the one you make up to justify your end goal. For you then, it’ll be fun to see how you cope with some other asshole’s interpretation of your boundary being just a little bit of a mere inconvenience for his goals, which didn’t necessarily respect your boundaries at all, for damned sure!

      Comment by uh huh, right.. | February 2, 2010 | Reply

      • Someone by the name of “uh huh, right..” might have a logical point hidden in the forest of name-calling and straw-man abuse, but how about this: Corporations are inventions of the State that are created to pass some of the risks of doing business from the people running the business over to the stockholders (if any), the customers (if any) and the public. So if a corporation commits a fraud, it is the corporation that’s punished (usually) and fined and the people who run the corporation get to walk away with a golden handshake. And the cost of the fine is passed along to the customers and paid to the government (not the victims!). To “David”s point, if we were to separate government and commerce, corporations would cease to exist! Not a bad idea.

        Comment by nubik | February 2, 2010 | Reply

        • I think that the point is, that if a corporation commits a financial crime, and nobody notices (the if the tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it truly make a noise argument) then did a crime actually take place?

          and in a veitch diagram, where the two blobs collide and interact, if one encroaches on the other one’s boundary, who is the arbiter of who got violated?

          my point is this: there are no straw man arguments with regard to david’s asinine assessment that corporations can do whatever they want with abandon. the truth of the matter is, granting corporations, and oligarchs, or whomever, a license to do what they want, whenever they want, under the premise that THEY ARE INDIVIDUALS and hence, guaranteed FREE SPEECH, is both absurd and horse shit.

          corporations are made up of groups of people. people who should live by some semblance of Rule of Law. When they don’t have to, then it’s “I can do anything I want as long as nobody catches me or holds me accountable for my transgressions” going on here.

          if that’s the world David wants to live in, let him go there and make it happen, but goddamn it, don’t expect me not to fucking object to that shit!

          We can all get along, just as long as boundaries are not gratuitously violated at will by anyone who thinks their right to do what they want actually nullifies my right not to be interfered with by their actions.

          with regard to corporations, they have no right to violate my rights, or yours, or anyone elses. If they can’t function in the community as a benevolent and hence, non interfering entity, then they have no right to exist.

          and David wasn’t being threatened. he’s an asshole for asserting that “do what you want, it’s freedom of speech” is a bunch of horse shit. It’s la la land bullshit. And I object to anyone or anything violating my boundaries with that free speech assertion. That’s a crock of shit and you know it is!

          Comment by flawed logic | February 2, 2010 | Reply

      • Well, that was a colorful response. Sadly, “uh-uh”, you are way off the mark. I never said people have the right to infringe on anyone else’s rights…and I repudiate “ends justify the means” thinking. Yes, laws SHOULD exist, but ONLY to PROTECT the rights of people. I’m sorry you have such a warped and horribly incorrect view of my argument.

        Comment by David | February 2, 2010 | Reply

        • your point well taken, David. I apologize for peeing in your corn flakes. I think I thought you were inferring that corporations were able to do whatever they pleased under this right of FREEDOM OF SPEECH, which in Amerk’a is a joke today because the PATRIOT ACT and a non-declared state of MARTIAL LAW we’ve been living under since Sept. 2001, has given the government the ability to suspend and or ‘shred’ the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

          sadly, people have only a few rights. we have the right to be taxed to the point of absurdity. we have the right to be conscripted and become cannon fodder for oligarch wars. and we have the right to shut the fuck up and be quiet while we are being joy boinked by corporations and oligarchs and bankers. those are our rights, and sadly, they truly SUCKETH, David. I think we can agree on that!

          Comment by I APOLOGIZE THEN | February 2, 2010 | Reply

  7. “Corporations are not people and money is not speech”

    come on.

    i want equal rights and personhood for my smith-wesson and glock. and speech rights for their bullets. c-4 should also be covered by the constitution.

    Comment by 5 dancing shlomos | February 2, 2010 | Reply

  8. I’m still wondering how the newbie, Roberts, inherited the Chief Justiceship after Rhenquist rather than that role going to someone with more experience on the bench. What does “The Roberts Court” plan to do next, though, for corporations? Give them the right to vote at the polls like real people?; perhaps have votes by human beings counted as 3/5 of a person or less to their 1?

    I haven’t read all of the 183-page booklength “ruling” yet but find these appalling statements therein to be not only contradictory to their expansive actions in this case but also something of an abdication of their duty:

    http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf

    >
    2 CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMM’N
    ROBERTS, C. J., concurring

    I Judging the constitutionality of an Act of Congress is

    “the gravest and most delicate duty that this Court is called upon to perform.” Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U. S. 142, 147–148 (1927) (Holmes, J., concurring). Because the stakes are so high, our standard practice is to refrain from addressing constitutional questions except when necessary to rule on particular claims before us. See Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 346–348 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concur-ring). This policy underlies both our willingness to construe ambiguous statutes to avoid constitutional problems and our practice “‘never to formulate a rule of constitutional law broader than is required by the precise facts to which it is to be applied.’” United States v. Raines, 362
    U. S. 17, 21 (1960) (quoting Liverpool, New York & Philadelphia S. S. Co. v. Commissioners of Emigration, 113
    U. S. 33, 39 (1885)).
    The majority and dissent are united in expressing allegiance to these principles. Ante, at 12; post, at 14 (STEVENS, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). >>

    Comment by GreyLmist | February 2, 2010 | Reply

    • Roberts, by virtue of his lies during CONfirmation by the DEMS who shoved his lying ass thru the process at mach speed, needs to be ‘impeached’ for being a fucking liar. He specifically stated he would not go this route of writing decisions not based on settled, non controversial concepts of the U.S. Constitution…and here clearly he has done exactly the opposite of that.

      The real blame should be on the shoulders of the cocksuckers in the SENATE that confirmed the son of a bitch in the first place, stating they wouldn’t vote against his confirmation because they were saving their ammo for REAL THREATS TO US..

      I blame the fucking DINOCRATS more than I blame this lying pile of shit named Roberts. Pricks like SCHUMER and that other asshole from Illinois, and that lying zionist bastard Levin from Michigan. Just a couple of them holding their ground could have stopped the confirmation of Alito, and then Roberts. But they let it slide.

      the assertion that all of this is indeed window dressing is a correct one, and the truth is, though blatantly a violation of our rights across the board, these scum in the SCOTUS are only post fact, asserting the screwing they were doing to us for a long, long, long time.

      the truth is, it never mattered what we thought was going on, because Corporations have been functioning well outside the law for a long time now, and nobody has held them accountable. the very bastards that sit on the SCOTUS are benefactors of the wrongdoing and greed of the corporations who provide kickbacks to them for their decisions, in the form of STOCK DIVIDENDS.

      unfortunately, focusing on the corrupt SCOTUS doesn’t help us much. It’s like stating the obvious, and expecting it to be punishable, when it is not.

      we are fucked no matter how we look at it, but there will be a day of atonement. Once they take away every last vestige of personal dignity of the entire middle class in this country, there will be hell to pay. There will be a violent, bloody backlash the likes of which has only been seen in France, but eventually will come home to roost here.

      Comment by unfortunately.. | February 2, 2010 | Reply

  9. unfortunately,

    Communists have long been in the business of fomenting class war along economic lines and brackets. Try to think more in terms of the Constitutionalist Class than the “middle class” as their linguists prefer. Works better, imo, to throw them off their gameplans.

    Comment by GreyLmist | February 2, 2010 | Reply

    • GreyLmist,

      what is happening now is a quickening in the realization by the Sheeple that something is seriously wrong, and that the facade and the illusion are wearing thin and falling down, revealing the ugly, multi tentacled ROTHSCHILD beast behind the corporatocracy push for more power and absolute rule.

      as the ‘middle class’ or whatever you want to call it, gets increasingly decimated and destroyed, ultimately enough Sheeple will have awakened to the point where they realize it’s either stand up and fight or die on all fours.

      the system ROTHSCHILDS is collapsing in on itself, due to way too much out of control, unchecked GREED, and now, it’s like a tall building going back and forth like a pendulum in an earthquake, at some point it will finally ‘snap’ and fall. we’re in the end game, as you will, of democracy and the faux economic system that was being perpetrated upon everyone, so there’s a collision with REALITY about to happen pretty soon, and it will not be pretty.

      IF I were SCOTUS, I’d be making sure those biz jets are fueled, pilots standing by, for their final PARAGUAYAN trip to the Bush compound where they’ll hide once the balloon finally goes up here.

      but increasingly, it looks like they’re pushing hard for World War III to take everyone’s eyes off the mind blowing, incredible HUBRIS of their ilk.

      a day of reckoning is indeed coming. And it will not be pretty.

      Comment by what I think is happening now is this.. | February 2, 2010 | Reply

      • I agree that the collapsing systems are theirs, not America’s, and check out this link from Rense.com:

        Alien-Like Rare Magnapinna Squid With ‘Elbows’ – Video

        http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/11/081124-giant-squid-magnapinna.html

        Looks kinda like the ugly, multi tentacled ROTHSCHILD beast behind the corporatocracy is trying to disguise itself as an offshore oil rig or something, doesn’t it?

        In their push for WWIII, they’re also pushing for an insurrection here to throw out the Constitution in exasperation and contempt so that they can replace it with their own designs. Sounds like Treason to me.

        Comment by GreyLmist | February 2, 2010 | Reply

  10. So, are individuals still being restricted “Freedom of Speechwise” on campaign funding?

    http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf

    Justice Kennedy said there:

    “Our precedent is to be respected unless the most convincing of reasons demonstrates that adherence to it puts us on a course that is sure error.”

    Memo to him and the rest of SCOTUS:

    The United States Constitution

    http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#A1Sec8

    Article 1 – The Legislative Branch
    Section 8 – Powers of Congress

    The Congress shall have Power …
    To regulate Commerce
    with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

    Comment by GreyLmist | February 2, 2010 | Reply

  11. In my own idea and understanding there have to be restrictions on what constitutes speech to prevent a bastardization of the term and an overly liberal interpretation of the First Amendment..Great post!!

    Comment by make more money online | February 3, 2010 | Reply

    • I’d like to see some opinions on this:

      http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf

      JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

      pg. 53-54

      4 We need not reach the question whether the Government has a compelling interest in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process. Cf. 2 U. S. C. §441e (contribution and expenditure ban applied to “foreign national[s]”). Section 441b is not limited to corporations or associations that were created in foreign countries or funded predominantly by foreign shareholders. Section 441b therefore would be overbroad even if we assumed, arguendo, that the Government has a compelling interest in limiting foreign influence over our political process. See Broadrick, 413
      U. S., at 615. >>

      Comment by GreyLmist | February 3, 2010 | Reply

  12. The US went bankrupt when FDR called in the gold. We had no more gold to pay for the paper we borrowed from the FED. It is now in a yearly bankruptcy rollover. The government is now private like BLACKWATER. All government agencies are listed on DUNN AND BRADSTREET. The common law which the constitution specifies pertains to natural people. All business by the courts today is corporate meaning that we are viewed as individual corporations. We exist by contract with the state. Remember the 14th amendment. There were no US citizens before that. Most of us have unwittingly claimed US corporate citizenship. We need to address the rule by the banking elite.Almost all leading REPS and DEMS are members of the COUNCIL OF FOREIGN RELATIONS or the TLC. LOok up the history of who started and controls these. Rush, Glenn and Sean are all liars and banker bootlickers. Obama is a puppet for the CFR. 911 truth has a great deal more bearing and would serve to unite the honest people in this country.

    Comment by lenny | February 4, 2010 | Reply

  13. lenny,

    I don’t really believe I’m a corporation or the citizen of one but, if the gubbermint thinks so, does the SCOTUS ruling mean that there are no more campaign contribution limits on anyone, businesses or individuals? I’d rather see money removed from our electoral process altogether — equal time on America’s airwaves given at no charge for all candidates.

    Comment by GreyLmist | February 4, 2010 | Reply


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