Originally Published: August 9, 2010 9:59 p.m.
"We the Corporations, in Order to form a more perfect Plutocracy, establish Injustice, insure domestic Servility, provide for the strengthening of the elite's legal immunity, promote corporate Welfare bailouts, and secure the Blessings of maximizing Profits by any means for ourselves and our stockholders, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Corporate States of America."
This is how the preamble to the Constitution might as well read if the recent Supreme Court ruling on corporate "citizenship" goes unchallenged by the actual people of the United States. This past January, the narrowest possible court majority legislated from the bench to dismiss more than 100 years of sensible law, first insisted upon by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, to restrict corporate electioneering in the American democratic process.
In its 5-4 ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the majority chose to establish a precedent giving unions and corporations - including both domestic and foreign investors in multi-national corporations - even greater financial access to our government, one for which such a dear price was paid by flesh and blood some 230 years ago.
The idea that corporations have the same political rights as living, breathing citizens has shoved democracy in America as it was originally intended down the ever increasingly steep and slippery slope to the abyss of a plutocracy - a government controlled solely by the wealthiest individuals.
For-profit corporations can and do provide many benefits to our society. However, by definition, they have one purpose - to maximize profit for the firm and stockholders any way possible. Since legal restrictions can reduce profit, corporations, with their 130,000 lobbyists and lawyers in Washington, D.C. (yes, 130,000!), strive to control law. The bitter objection to regulation in the wake of the financial meltdown and the BP disaster are two cases in point.
The door was opened wide for corporations to control democracy in the 1886 Supreme Court case Southern Pacific Railroad v. Santa Clara County. The court recorder in the case, a former railroad company president, wrote in his non-judicial, personally-asserted summary that corporations were "legal persons" entitled to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The actual court opinion of the justices in the case mentioned nothing of the sort. Disturbingly, this legal fiction has been used ever since by corporate lawyers to gain ever-greater influence for corporations in the American democratic process.
Supreme Court justices are obligated to consider more than just the letter of the Constitution and subordinate law. For the general welfare of the country, they also are obliged to factor in the intent and spirit of the law, as well as potential unintended outcomes. The majority opinion in Citizens United failed to do this. For-profit corporations, by definition, have one goal: to maximize profit. This is why then, to give them unfettered access to our lawmakers and election process in order to establish legislation for the sole and express benefit of corporate profits is to surely sound the death knell for government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Now having established that for-profit corporations have First Amendment rights, expect the inertia of the logic of this court's decision to dissolve any remaining legal protections on true democracy, opening the door for foreigners, many of them, like China, in direct competition with the U.S., to essentially buy our government. If we follow the assertion of legal personhood for corporations to its logical end, we must conclude that corporations are entitled to vote and run for office!
We might as well stop pretending. Let's just get it over with and swear in Goldman-Sachs as President, British Petroleum as Vice President, and the Chinese premiere as Secretary of State. Big business knows best. Surely, they will look out for the general welfare of all of us.
Enough is enough! Like those patriots of yore who rose up to throw off the yoke of the crown and lord-backed corporations like the East India Tea Company and the slave-trading London Company, it is time for the American people of all political stripes to amend the Constitution and save our democracy.
To this end, local organizers of FightWashingtonCorruption.org, part of a growing nation-wide coalition to preserve and bolster democracy, are staging a rally in the vicinity of Sheldon and Gurley beginning at 4 p.m. today, Aug. 10. We invite all people who cherish our democracy to join us!
Bill Swahlen is a retired building contractor, lives in Prescott and is a third-generation Arizona native. Before moving to Prescott, he was very politically active on South Whidbey Island, Wash.