It’s called “Corporate Personhood.”
“Corporate personhood” means that corporations are treated as though they were persons, indeed citizens, under the law, as having the same Constitutional Rights as “natural persons,” as citizens.
On the one hand it seems innocuous enough. On the other hand it seems absurd – and dangerous.
Corporate personhood has two arenas where it seems to make a difference whether corporations have such “rights.” In the first instance, personhood allows corporations to participate in the electoral process – not to run for office (not yet) and not to vote (not yet), but to influence elections by spending unimaginable amounts of money, so much money that it overwhelms all other sources of campaign money. The issue is not that their money always wins elections (as often as not both major party candidates are the recipients of big corporate cash), but that whoever wins is beholden to his or her corporate benefactors. In the second instance, personhood allows corporations to participate in writing legislation, to dictate the terms of the legislation. Obamacare was the handiwork of the health insurance lobby more than it was the work of Congressional Democrats or the White House itself. We don’t elect health insurance companies to write health care legislation, but they do.
The 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1868. It granted “equal protection” before the law to all Americans, particularly former slaves whose unequal treatment was the rationale for the amendment in the first place. For 18 years, corporations appeared before the Supreme Court, asking to be recognized as persons worthy of equal protection before the law. Finally, in 1886, in a case called Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, they prevailed (it is really not that simple) and won the right to be treated as natural persons under the law. For nearly 85 years, they held this awesome new power in check. Since the early 1970’s, however, large corporate interests have been flexing their muscles and they are now in full control of our democracy, “the best democracy money can buy (Greg Palast)." Then the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, repealed 100 years worth of legal impediments to corporations buying elections, the last nail in the coffin of our popular democracy.
This subject is way too big for a single blog post and is a key component of the central issue of my entire blog. You are urged to become more familiar with this subject. Stay with me on this blog as I will be discussing it at greater length. Or research it yourself on the web. Or check out some of the following web sites.
Here is a great video introduction to the subject by Lawrence Lessig, a godfather of the movement to amend the Constitution to strip corporations of their Constitutional “rights.”
Here are a few organizations that were created for the sole purpose of amending the Constitution to strip corporations of their Constitutional “rights”:
Move To Amend End Corporate Rule, Legalize Democracy
RootStrikers Only The People Can Force Lasting Change On This Broken System
This is the biggest issue in all of politics – because it is the only issue that deals with the reality that you and I have no real voice in Washington. Even if your party wins it all – the White House and both houses of Congress – you still won’t get what you think you were voting for.
Re-read this post and visit the web sites that I point to. Get involved.
Addendum: Tuesday, 04/21/2015
Thom Hartmann is the sanest and most sensible talk-show host on radio or TV. As I pointed out in my book, he is the author of Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became ""People"" -- and How You Can Fight Back, the earliest book about the dangers of corporate personhood that I know of that he wrote back in 2002, a decade before Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that woke up the rest of us whose ears are not as sharp as Thom's. He also penned We the People: A Call to Take Back America, a short textbook on the subject in comic book form in 2004, still well in advance of Citizens United. It is very accessible and will teach you all you really need to know about the subject to be an informed citizen (but it suffers from blaming the whole mess on conservatives). Purchase it. Read it. Act!
Addendum: Friday, 12/18/2015
For those who would like to have some historical perspective about corporate rights in the United States, see this article and timeline from Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (a group that has been concerned about this huge issue for longer than most) here.