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Corporations as People Report
updated: Jul 08, 2013, 2:04 PM

By Robert Bernstein

Are corporations people? Is money a form of speech? The Supreme Court has ruled "yes" on both counts, most notably in the "Citizens United" case of 2010. Yet most Americans find these ideas absurd if not appalling.

The result of the ruling has been hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising by corporations to advance everything from climate change denial to corporate- friendly candidates.

On Sunday afternoon, the Faulkner Gallery was filled to capacity as people learned about the case, the history and what is to be done. Our State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson was one speaker and the main speaker was David Cobb, National Spokesperson for "Move to Amend" which seeks to overturn Citizens United.

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Senator Jackson reminded us that starting in 1949 the Fairness Doctrine guaranteed balanced access to broadcast media for a spectrum of views. Reagan eliminated this requirement. Which meant that more money could buy more access for one side with no guarantee of any access for other sides at all.

David Cobb spoke with the cool logic and facts of a lawyer combined with the passion of a preacher's grandson. Starting with the history of corporations in America.

Each of the 13 original colonies was a corporation. So was the East India Tea Company that sparked the famous Boston Tea Party. Capturing and enslaving African people was a corporate venture. Jefferson railed against the "aristocracy of our moneyed corporations".

As a result, early American corporations had to serve a specific public interest. Their creation required legislative approval similar to passing a bill into law. Their "limited liability" could only last seven years. If they acted outside the stated public interest, even legally, their corporate charter could be revoked.

"Name one Fortune 500 Company today that could exist by that rule," Cobb challenged the audience.

In contrast, current corporations are formed by filling in a form and paying a fee and they go on forever.

Cobb reminded the audience of the power held by the people if they remember to use it. The Constitution begins "We The People". It grants rights and authority (sovereignty) to the people while imposing duties on the government. The government should fear the people not vice versa.

And corporations in strict legal terms are a "legal fiction". In the words of dissenting Supreme Court Justice Stevens "…corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their 'personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."

So, what is to be done? In principle "Move to Amend" is about amending the Constitution to declare that "money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights."

However, Cobb argued that legal change usually follows cultural and social change. Building a movement must precede such action. Move to Amend has started by organizing cities, counties and states to pass resolutions calling for this legal change. 300,000 people have participated so far and 500 resolutions have been passed around the country.

He says we should aim for ten times those numbers before we reach the tipping point. Where we might change the Constitution and/or expect the Court to reverse itself.

Cobb travels the country non-stop and is pleased that this is not a partisan issue. Tea Party people and Occupy people alike recognize that people need to regain their power over corporations and government.

And it starts right here with proposed resolutions in the City and the County of Santa Barbara and in the State of California. According to Cobb, the people can and will prevail.

 

 

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