Corporate Personhood and the Dimming of Democracy

The public is only vaguely aware of the Corporate Personhood ruling announced by the Supreme Court in January, 2010. The ruling lifted restraints on corporate funding of political campaigns. Considering its importance to the future of democracy in America, it went under reported on the networks. The implications were briefly explored in print media and the topic faded from public view. While live coverage of Tea Party protests filled the evening news, the foundations of democracy were being undermined by a Supreme Court overloaded with corporate sympathizers. The very branch of government entrusted with interpreting the constitution and protecting the rights of the people betrayed both.

The Tillman Act of 1907 banned corporations from funding political careers. This was the first of many campaign finance laws enacted by congress over the years to limit the ability of corporations to control public elections. The last significant campaign finance bill to pass through congress was the McCain-Feingold bill of 2002, which attempted to regulate the issues of soft money and negative political advertising. In keeping with the original intent of the constitution, it was illegal for special interest groups to sponsor political campaigns in Federal elections. Direct contributions to candidates were limited to small amounts and restrictions were imposed on the wording of political ads.

Regardless of established safeguards, corporations circumvented regulations and continued to manipulate elections by flooding the airways with political attack ads. Through loopholes in campaign finance laws, corporations with vested interests and no prohibitive accountability sponsored independent smear campaigns with soft money. Political action committees (PACs), funded by special interests, were able to wage negative political campaigns by subverting the intent of issue advocacy laws. Long before the Corporate Personhood ruling was announced in 2010, corporate money and the dirty politics of culture war had co-opted the political process and opened the door for coded fascism in all three branches of government.

By controlling the outcome of elections through attack ad campaigns, corporations filled both houses of Congress with subjugated politicians. In the typical scenario, corporate-friendly politicians run on the party rubric of family values. At election time, their social conservative campaigns are flanked by smear campaigns that slander opponents with misinformation and innuendo. Corporate sponsored attack ads and right-wing talk shows ruthlessly malign opposition candidates while self-righteous politicians claim the moral high ground. The voter is left to choose the lesser of two evils: that is, between defamed liberal and subjugated Christian.

Social conservative politicians may be sincere in their politicized religious beliefs, but the corporations their economic policies serve are not bound by the same code of ethics. When corporations fund an army of lobbyists to influence congressional legislation or sponsor political action committees to flood the airways with attack ads, they manipulate the political process with little regard for the rights of the people. The motives of for-profit corporations are based on acquiring power and profit -- there is no underlying sense of fair play. If government regulations (put in place to protect the welfare of the people) stand in the way of quarterly profits, they are circumvented at every opportunity without guilt or reservation. Despite the democratic cover story, corporations take no responsibility for the rights and safety of the people except as mandated by enforceable laws.

In much the same way McCarthyism manipulated the good intentions and fears of Americans in the 1950s, so too has culture war blinded people to the fascism of right-wing demagoguery. As a political strategy, twenty years of slander campaigns moved the political center to the right. So far to the right, in fact, that prejudicial policies that would have been unacceptable in the past now seem fair and democratic to the general public. Even the coded fascism of the Bush administration seemed ‘patriotic’ to disgruntled citizens driven to extremism by hard times and virulent rhetoric.

Fascism is the collusion of big business and totalitarian government. The coded fascism of the Bush administration lost all pretense of subtlety as they suspended constitutional rights, condoned ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, attempted the secret surveillance of the citizenry, controlled public opinion through misinformation and fear tactics, depleted the resources of the education system, rescinded environmental and public safety regulations and engaged in covert military actions in the name of national security. The disparity in the distribution of wealth increased as a function of the political agenda.

The Bush/Cheney era exemplified the failings of representing big business with a religious imperative and a right-wing agenda. In keeping with a legacy of constitutional abuses during the Bush presidency, hardliners were ecstatic to have two corporate ‘friendlies’ appointed to the Supreme Court. The balance of power swung in favor of big business. Unfortunately for everyone save the capital elite, the Republican-controlled court sided with corporate interests in virtually every litigation. The Supreme Court became a bastion of the aristocracy. Overloaded with corporate sympathizers, the cries of the people fell on deaf ears while the constitution was subverted from within.

When the Corporate Personhood ruling was announced by the Supreme Court, democracy took a major hit. The concept of corporate personhood, first introduced into the Court in 1886, is based on the idea that a body of shareholders should have the same rights as an individual. With this absurd notion as their premise, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling granted corporations rights as individuals. The overriding difficulty is it gave corporations the opportunity to fund political campaigns. It undermined the very reason the constitution was written.

The Court overturned existing campaign finance laws because they restricted the freedom of speech of corporations. Five Republican appointed Supreme Court justices sided with corporate litigators in a scathing aberration of democracy. While ‘corporate personhood’ is dressed in democratic ideals, corporate totalitarianism was virtually written into law. This is an example of coded fascism at the highest levels of government.

There is an understanding among civil people everywhere based on the golden rule. Friends abide by its precepts, enemies do not. We share no such common denominator with corporations. The Corporate Personhood ruling unleashed giant money-hungry psychopaths on an unwitting society. The new bully on the block is a legal construct without conscience or social charter. It controls government without the sense of humanity of flesh and blood people. Accordingly, politicians legislate corporate agendas without facing the real issues of our time or our responsibility to future generations because they are not in the short term interests of their sponsors.

Without constitutional restraints on electioneering, politicians scramble for corporate funding to compete in the high stakes political game. In a frontal assault on democracy, corporations pour more and more money into campaign coffers to secure control of the political process. Our cherished democracy has been co-opted by the legalized graft of Corporate Personhood while ambivalent voters remained preoccupied with culture war diversions.