How corporate rule came about

Richard Elk is a Retired Chico State University professor and frequent contributor to the CN&R.

Easily the most powerful force destroying our integrity of government is the flood of corporate money pouring into the pockets of our politicians of both parties. These worthies deny they are bought by the corporations, but common sense shows the clear connection between huge campaign contributions and big business getting what it wants. All this influence peddling isn’t bribery in the legal sense, of course, because proving bribery means showing a direct quid pro quo, a tough job.

Recognizing the evil of ever-growing corporate governance of our nation, public-interest groups have on several occasions managed to bring before the U.S. Supreme Court test cases that would limit the money flow. Each time the high court has turned back such efforts with the message that they limit the free-speech rights of corporations. In other words, corporations have a First Amendment right to express their political views through giving money via political-action committees, with the ratio being about two dollars to one favoring the Republicans.

How could any corporation, a privately chartered business entity, become a person and therefore benefit from free-speech rights that the founding father clearly intended just for living people? Well, the U.S. Supreme Court fashioned this absurdity, setting the historic precedent for today’s chicanery in a railroad property assessment and tax decision that came down in 1886 (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company). Because the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of corporations, the court in this case took it upon itself to rewrite the Constitution.

Indeed, the idea of corporate personhood never even came before the high court for argument. The official case record shows that Justice Morrison Waite simply announced it as a fact prior to argument of the merits of the case at hand. Waite said, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.” This new cornerstone of corporate law subsequently protected not only corporate free speech, but in many cases also protected corporate personal-property rights.

Thus a brief assertion by one judge made corporations into people and changed the course of history by opening the door for the rise of today’s corporate rule. At the same time, the decision posed a legal contradiction that has never been addressed directly by the courts: How can corporations, which under law are owned by their shareholders and beholden only to them, be thus held in bondage as persons when slavery was outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment? Well aware of its troublesome potential, the high court of today would never agree to consider this question.