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If there is a positive aspect about the 5-4 Supreme Court decision ruling that overturned much of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act – more commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act – it is that it has aroused peoples’ awareness of how our political system is being controlled by money and power. Last week’s opinion by Gene Bifano laid out several issues shining a light into this practice.
Bifano stated that the proposed amendment to the Constitution to state specifically that corporations are not people will “limit free speech by dissolving corporate personage.” There is no corporate personage to dissolve. Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that corporations are persons, nor are corporations ever even mentioned. The amendment is needed to make this fact undeniably clear to courts.
He writes that the amendment “is a veiled attempt to stifle one political view to give the other an advantage.” That’s exactly what the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court is doing: giving corporations and unions a huge advantage by allowing them unlimited access to spend as much money as they want to advertise for or against a political candidate up to the minute before an election. There is not a reason that I can think of as to why this is necessary or helpful.
What it can do is corrupt the truth and mislead voters who won’t have the time or money to verify the information that’s being thrown at them. The first amendment authors did not intend to allow massive amounts of cash to be injected into our political campaigns under the guise of free speech. Bifano also mentions millionaires such as Bloomberg and Lautenberg using their personal wealth to win elections. While this is a common practice of all parties, that also needs to be addressed. The amount of money invested in elections personally by candidates is miniscule compared to corporate cash.
Bifano states, “All businesses would be subject to the capricious and arbitrary whims of government. And clearly that would hinge on what party was in power at the time.” For over 100 years now, both for profit and nonprofit corporations have used the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution to include corporate personhood. Whether the decision went for or against these entities depended on the flavor of the court at the time. Right, left or in the middle, none of us should want our constitution interpreted at the whim of political appointees, albeit supreme. That is why we need this amendment – to do away with this ambiguity, and in the process save billions of dollars in court costs.
Also brought up in Bifano’s article is the 14th Amendment, an even more important issue to address. I grew up in Bucks County, PA. In the early 1980s a pump to divert water from the Delaware River to the Limerick nuclear facility was proposed and overwhelmingly voted against by the residents. After years and almost a million dollars in legal fees, the county lost its fight and the pump is today perched on the banks of the Delaware, sending water to the nuclear plant. The fight by the NWRA (Neshaminy Water Resource Authority) based its argument partially on its equal rights protection.
The 14th Amendment was constructed to protect minorities and women from discrimination. It has nothing to do with corporations. As far as I know, corporations aren’t male or female, or black or white – sound silly? If they’re persons, wouldn’t they have such attributes? The kickoff to this ridiculous claim to personhood was in 1886 – Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific. The crux of this case was a tax law to enable poor people who had debt to keep their homes through a tax credit by deducting their amount of debt. The railroad sued to be able to claim the same credit and won based on 14th Amendment rights. Since that case, the court has swung in both directions, ruling for and against corporate personhood, again depending on the political bent of the issue and the court.
The Pfizer Corporation – the world’s largest pharmaceutical company – has been fined four times over the past decade for illegally pushing drugs, including the largest fine ever imposed for violation of drug laws. Even at that the fine was a mere slap on the hand compared to the astronomical profits of the company. If Pfizer is a person, why wasn’t he (or is it she) thrown in jail, like you or I would be? Instead they’re right back in business, breaking the same laws.
The question was asked: “If big business controlled the country, would Barack Obama have been elected? Answer: He would have and he was. All one has to do is look at his biggest campaign donors and see that many are the same major corporations that support the Republicans. It’s like betting on all horses – that way you can’t lose.
If the EPA was running rough-shod – or even doing their job – we would have had viable solar energy worldwide 30 years ago. There would be no fracking or strip mining, or a need for either. Climate change would be a natural occurrence rather than a manmade catastrophe. And as far as civil rights and OSHA fines, the millions that are imposed on major corporations from Wal-Mart to Wall Street are such a small portion of profit that they’re often written off as a minor business expense.
I agree with Bifano in not seeing the difference between a non- or not-for-profit and for-profit corporations. This amendment will pertain to all of the above, as well as unions. I’ve had my own businesses all my life and I’m certainly not anti-business. Corporations do great things: create jobs, support charities, stimulate creativity, etc. But they are not people and don’t have the same responsibilities and liabilities that people have; so it follows that they should not have the same protections.
This amendment, if passed, won’t be a cure-all for corporate corruption, or entirely solve the issue of the infusion of massive amounts of money into our political system. But without it we have no foundation to start the process of getting back to a real democratic republic. And isn’t that what we the people – all the people – really want?
Procaccini lives in Fayston.