Corporations aren’t people

Chico City Council is right to consider corporate personhood issue

Are corporations people? As one wag put it, “I’ll believe it when I see a corporation on death row.”

Joking aside, corporate personhood is a serious issue, and the Chico City Council was right to ask its Internal Affairs Committee to examine it. The IAC began its discussion on Feb. 14 and will continue it on March 13.

Specifically, the IAC is studying a request from former city Planning Commissioner Jon Luvaas that the City Council either adopt a resolution supporting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution ending the designation of corporations as “people,” as given in the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision, or put an advisory measure to that effect on the November 2012 ballot.

If the council does support Luvaas’ recommendation, Chico will join several other cities, including Los Angeles; Boulder, Colo.; Missoula, Mont.; and Madison, Wis., in calling for a constitutional amendment.

Some argue that corporate personhood is not an issue that involves Chico and that the council has no business wasting time considering it. But that’s a short-sighted view.

As Luvaas writes in his letter, “Corporations, for all their benefit to the economy, have progressively acquired power and rights that vastly exceed those of natural human beings. This accumulation of power has become the greatest threat to our democracy since its inception, and the inability or unwillingness of our national leaders to curtail abuse by major corporate powers has unleashed our current economic crisis.”

It was Wall Street corporations, after all, that caused the Great Recession and, with it, the loss of $7 trillion in household wealth and more than 8 million jobs. Chico has felt its share of that pain.

The immediate manifestation of the Citizens United decision is the rise of “super PACs” able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money anonymously and without accountability. As the Republican presidential primary has shown, big donors have become far and away the most powerful force in elections. Jane Mayer, writing in The New Yorker, puts it this way: “In this campaign, every candidate needs his own billionaires.”

This is exactly what the Occupy movement has been protesting: more and more power in fewer and fewer hands. We all should take a stand against it, including the city of Chico.