Have you ever wondered why corporations like Exxon Mobil have free speech "rights" under the Constitution when corporations can't "speak," and when the Constitution was written to protect "We the People" and never mentions "corporations"? Do you worry that maybe, just maybe, the Supreme Court is putting the interests of corporate America over the rights of hard-working Americans?
If so, then you probably want to learn more about a piece of legal fiction called "corporate personhood." And you should probably start with this terrific lecture from that preeminent legal scholar, Stephen Colbert:
If, after watching Colbert, your interest is piqued - as it really should be -- then I urge you to take a look at this discussion draft of a report on corporate personhood, recently released by the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC, where I work), which tells you more than you probably ever wanted to know about the topic. (CAC is planning to release a final version of this report in January 2010). While we've already distributed this to a number of legal blogs in an effort to get feedback, we also wanted to publish it here, to reach a broader audience.
CAC prepared this report in an effort to better inform the legal and public debate surrounding the Supreme Court's looming decision in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (better known as the "Hillary: The Movie" case). After hearing argument in the case in March 2009, the Court in June ordered an expansion of the issues it would decide, heard re-argument in September, and now could be poised to do away with a principle that has not only been the underpinnings of campaign finance law since the Tillman Act of 1907, but is also a bedrock principle of our Constitution: corporations and individuals are different, and because of the special privileges corporations receive to succeed in business, corporation do not receive identical rights under our Constitution. For the first time in nearly a century, the Court may change the state of the law to say that unlimited amounts of money from corporations' general treasuries (i.e., the funds where corporate profits sit, not the isolated and highly-restricted "PAC" funds through which corporations currently influence elections) may flow freely into federal and state elections.
So if it troubles you to think that a corporation like Exxon, which raked in $45 billion in profits in 2008, could, with a diversion of a small fraction of those profits, overwhelm the spending of both major parties in the 2010 election, you should be following the outcome of Citizens United. And if you want to know why the Court should uphold the longstanding restrictions on corporate efforts to influence elections, please read CAC's report.
Hannah McCrea is proud to work at the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), a think tank and public interest law firm dedicated to showing how the text and history of our Constitution uphold progressive outcomes.