Corporations are people too – just super people who are taxed less and can’t go to jail

Interesting campaign in the US seeking to rescind the Citizens United decision on the subject of corporations as human beings – Move To Amend:

On January 21, 2010, with its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections and run our government. Human beings are people; corporations are legal fictions.

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:

* Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

* Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our vote and participation count.

* Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.

The Supreme Court is misguided in principle, and wrong on the law. In a democracy, the people rule. We Move to Amend.

Because whilst it makes sense to treat corporations as one entity rather than many for the purposes of regulation, litigation and so on – it makes no sense to give them the privileges of human beings when they’re subject to none of the responsibilities.

They cannot go to jail. They live forever. They are taxed at a vastly lower rate. If they get the privileges of people then they supercede us in every respect – in any competition between us and them, they are bound to win.

The only power people still have over corporations is their votes – but the corporations have money to corrupt and influence voters and, perhaps more critically, they can buy out the voters’ only choices, thus rendering this one remaining power nearly meaningless. In the US, there are only two parties they need to worry about, after all. It’s almost too easy…

Which means that I’m not optimistic about the prospects for success of Move to Amend – but it’s good to see that they’re trying.

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16 responses to “Corporations are people too – just super people who are taxed less and can’t go to jail

  1. And they never need a colonoscopy!

  2. jordanrastrick

    People are guaranteed the right to vote in America, so I’m not sure point what that is about. Nor the one about “pre-emption”.

    For me, it comes down to this – why should Gina Reinhardt have the right to take out ads pushing her political views, but not the shareholders of BHP or the members of the CFMEU acting collectively? Surely if a person has the right to express views, forming a party, union, small business, corporation or other collective entity doesn’t detract from that right. Fundamentally, the right to free speech is actually more about the right to free hearing – democracies depend on everyone having access to all ideas and viewpoints, regardless of whether those viewpoints originate with a fellow citizen, a foreigner [who may not have rights to free speech under their own countries laws], a corporation, or aliens from Alpha Centauri.

    Oh, and one other minor quibble. The “corporations pay lower tax thing” is a furphy. Corporations are only collectives of people, and their profits are ultimately distributed to shareholders as dividends or capital gains, which are of course taxed as income. There is a jurisdictional question of how tax works across borders, where shares are foreign-owned, since the company tax is paid where the company operates but the income tax is paid where the shareholder resides. In fact this is the chief reason company tax is necessary at all. But its a similar issue to other questions of where tax should be paid, and how attractive you want your country to be to foreign investors, not something that’s inherently wrong with a company tax rate lower than a given marginal income tax rate.

  3. Splatterbottom

    What was Australia’s largest political donation again?

  4. uniquerhys

    “People are guaranteed the right to vote in America, so I’m not sure point what that is about.”

    Just not the right to have their vote counted by the voting machines built by contractors with Republican ties if they front up. Or the right to be free of harassment by phony “vote challengers” who pick on anyone who doesn’t look white to prove their right to vote with ever-increasing requirements for ID that many poor people and citizens-by-immigration don’t have. Or the right still to vote if they’ve moved recently, or been convicted of jay-walking, or a million other loopholes that have been written into electoral law over the years to disfranchise minorities. A right that you cannot exercise due to no fault of your own is no right at all.

    “Oh, and one other minor quibble. The “corporations pay lower tax thing” is a furphy. Corporations are only collectives of people, …”

    The point is that if a corporation *is* a person, as argued by Citizens United, then it is silly for the tax law to be applied unequally to the corporation compared to any other “citizen”. They can’t be both a single person and a collective unless we’re going to start letting schizophrenics pay corporate tax rates for their multiple personalities.

  5. “Oh, and one other minor quibble. The “corporations pay lower tax thing” is a furphy. ”

    Bwaaahhhhhhhhhh. I suggest all those companies in Australia exposed as tax avoiders over the last hundred years be apologised to. Like we could have a sorry day or something. Maybe walk across the Sydney harbour bridge. tee he.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  6. jordanrastrick

    I’m not talking about tax avoidance, lynot, whether by individuals or businesses. I was responding to Jeremy’s point about corporate tax rates versus personal income tax rates: They are taxed at a vastly lower rate

  7. jordanrastrick

    Just not the right to have their vote counted by the voting machines built by contractors with Republican ties if they front up.

    Obviously the American electoral system is imperfect in practice, but this is not for want of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. As it happens the legality of hanging chads and so forth was never even tested in the Supreme Court 2000 because Gore, for better or for worse, decided it would be too divisive, even though the Democrats surely had a pretty strong case.

    The point is that if a corporation *is* a person, as argued by Citizens United,

    The “legal person” argument is a strange area of law, I’ll grant, but at the least it is more subtle than this. Does a corporation have the right to vote, or to have an abortion, or not be discriminated against because of its race? No; such ideas do not even make sense. Corporations are legally equivalent to individuals for some purposes but not others.

    Schizophrenia, by the way, is not multiple personality disorder.

    Anyway, leaving the legal doctrines of personhood aside for a moment, on the actual merits of whether collective organisations should be able to spend money expressing their views (on political causes or any other matter), I’m yet to see a single convincing argument that they shouldn’t. Of that’s not to say there shouldn’t be measures to prevent corruption, where donations sway parliamentarian’s voting decisions. But there are ways to do that without banning people from spending money promoting their opinions [whether individually or collectively.]

  8. “And they never need a colonoscopy!”

    Oh, Daniel, why did you have to remind I’m scheduled for one next month. :(

  9. Sorry to be obnoxious but I find Jordan’s arguments here to be some of the silliest I’ve read in a long time. Jordan, perhaps you need to read a little more to understand the issue better. I know that at least one of the main problems associated with the US Supreme Court’s ‘recognition’ of corporations is that they will be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on electoral campaigns without being subject to adequate public scrutiny.

    One also needs to look very carefully at the 5-4 split in the Court’s decision to understand what’s really going on. Big Money corporations (not unions) have a massively deleterious influence over politics in the US. This decision has made the situation worse.

    Also please note what has been said above. Republicans in power in many of the states of the US have been implementing laws to make it much harder for the poor and powerless to even have the right to vote. To claim that “People are guaranteed the right to vote in America” under the current assault on that right is just ludicrous.

  10. ” I’m not talking about tax avoidance, lynot, whether by individuals or businesses. I was responding to Jeremy’s point about corporate tax rates versus personal income tax rates: They are taxed at a vastly lower rate”

    Well not the ‘Pty Ltd’ I was the director of. If I am some what confused here, and your telling me PAYE pay more than companies I apologise. If not NANU NANU. You are having a laugh.? Running a company, with the added benefit of all the loop holes, (legitimate mind you,) of family trusts etc is a scandal in this fair land. Oh that’s right I forget, you’re a lefty aren’t you?

  11. jordan
    People are guaranteed the right to vote in America, so I’m not sure point what that is about.

    Not so.
    Each state can essentially please itself about the criteria for suffrage. The 19th Amendment gives a brief list of inherited traits like colour and gender that can’t be used as reasons for denying suffrage, but lays down no obligation for granting or assuring it.

    Remember Florida? Struck from the electoral roll if your name was an 80% match with what our cops call “known to us”?
    That broke no laws. It was a huge con, but it broke no laws.

    The “corporations pay lower tax thing” is a furphy.

    Yes it is – in many cases, they don’t pay it at all.

    http://www.forbes.com/2010/04/01/ge-exxon-walmart-business-washington-corporate-taxes.html

  12. jordanrastrick

    Malky,

    Sorry to be obnoxious but I find Jordan’s arguments here to be some of the silliest I’ve read in a long time.

    I like debate. Please don’t feel hesitant to call my arguments silly for fear of offending me, at least…

    Of course it’d be nice if you made any response to the substance of them, instead of simply dismissing them, suggesting I read more, and then implying bias in the court that made the decision :-)

    Also please note what has been said above. Republicans in power in many of the states of the US have been implementing laws to make it much harder for the poor and powerless to even have the right to vote.

    OK, I’ll admit that “guaranteed the right to vote” was too strong a phrasing. Legally people have pretty strong rights to vote but as I myself already noted, pragmatically the apparatchiks do pull out all stops to try and trap people in technicalities. I still don’t think a constitutional amendment is the fix, and indeed until a case on such practices goes to SCOTUS which I don’t believe has happened, there’s no way to know where the law currently stands on them with any certainty. Keep in mind the 15th amendment outlawed denying the vote to people on the basis of race de jure and passed in 1870, but de facto southern states were able to systematically deny African Americans equal rights for many further decades on a scale that makes the issues of 2000 look trifling.

    they will be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on electoral campaigns without being subject to adequate public scrutiny.

    I think two things are key. No entity, corporate or otherwise, should be able to buy influence directly with politicians (buying influence with the electorate is a different matter). And political practices should be transparent and as you say subject to public scrutiny. The ruling might potentially have worrying implications for the latter.

    In my ideal policy I probably wouldn’t go as far as the current situation in America. But free speech is a serious issue here, and any regulation of political financing needs to take it into account. Proposals to say ban donations or political advertising outright are incompatible with an open democratic system. For instance, the petition wants to:

    Firmly establish that money is not speech

    Of course money is not speech, but its inevitable that money can increase the influence of speech. Media – blogs, newspapers, TV, skywriting, billboards – are goods as subject to the laws of economics as any other. It costs money to run a TV station. There is a finite capacity to broadcast messages. It costs time and money and to create an effective ad campaign. Where should this money come from? The answer of anti-private funding advocates (such as the Greens) seems to be “taxpayers, not donors.” But that implies someone in the government decides how those taxpayer dollars are allocated, and thus who gets to have their political views heard. If you can’t see why that’s problematic for a democracy, well I’ll simply suggest I’m not the one with a naieve understanding of this issue…

  13. jordanrastrick

    Each state can essentially please itself about the criteria for suffrage. The 19th Amendment gives a brief list of inherited traits like colour and gender that can’t be used as reasons for denying suffrage, but lays down no obligation for granting or assuring it.

    Point taken. I would be interested to see how an attempt to remove sufferage on say the basis of sexuality or disability would play out legally [although obviously its unlikely to crop up for political reasons].

    Yes it is – in many cases, they don’t pay it at all.

    As I already clarified to lynot, my argument concerns Jeremy’s original point about the rates of corporate tax vs income tax, not the loopholes individuals and businesses may exploit to minimise their liabilities.

    Let me put it this way.

    Any of you proposing to regulate financing, which of the following would you make illegal [assuming for the sake of argument they are all completely transparent and open to public scrutiny]:

    1) John Doe spending an hour writing political posts on a blog
    2) John Doe spending an hour earning money, and paying it to a writer to make political posts on a blog
    3) John Doe spending a year earning money, and using it to take out a newspaper ad in an election campaign supporting a Carbon Price
    4) John Doe spending a year earning money, and using it to take out a newspaper ad in an election campaign supporting the Greens
    5) Bill Gates spending a year earning money, and using it to buy continuous advertising space in every newspaper and TV station
    6) John Doe joining the CFMEU, paying them membership fees, and the union’s executive spending those membership fees on a political ad campaign in the CFMEU’s interests
    7) John Doe buying shares in Microsoft, the shareholders electing a board, and the board deciding to spend some of the shareholders’ dividends on a political campaign in Microsoft’s interest
    8) John Doe joining the Liberal party, and the Liberal party spending fees on a political campaign
    9) John Doe donating to Get Up, and Get up spending money on a political campaign
    10) Rupert Murdoch buying a newspaper and instructing its editors to run a campaign against Labor and the Greens
    11) One hundred thousand Greens voters getting together to buy a newspaper and instruct its editors to run a campaign against the Liberal party

    I can’t see how to justify making some of these illegal and not others; thus, I think its pretty clear they all should be legal.

    If you disagree, I’d love to hear why.

  14. jordanrastrick

    Ugh. That was supposed to be point 8 not a f***ing smiley……

  15. Fair enough Jordan,

    I’ll own up to that. But you must surely admit that we are talking here about immensely powerful multinational organisations which either do not pay taxes or pay very little (E.g., Exxonmobil, General Electric, Koch Industries) with vast resources being able to influence elections through donations and campaigning. I would argue that the very fact that such corporations exist purely to earn large amounts of capital makes them very different to organisations such as unions which exist (or should) to protect and advocate for the rights of working.

    Oh and I’m not implying bias in the US court – I’m arguing that the bias is actual.

  16. Jordan, I know that it’s a bit off topic, but I also wanted to say that it seems to me the right to vote isn’t really that strongly supported in the US. The holding of elections on working days; the introduction of restrictive laws designed to minimise the vote of poor people (overwhelmingly introduced by conservatives), the use of suspect electronic voting devices, and the inadequate scrutiny of ballot boxes and suspect electoral officials (witness the recent judicial election in Wisconsin) all point to a not particularly healthy prognosis for democracy in the US.

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