Magazine article USA TODAY

The Abuses of Corporate Personhood

Magazine article USA TODAY

The Abuses of Corporate Personhood

Article excerpt

"... Corporate 'persons' have been given many superhuman qualities. They have infinite life spans, reside simultaneously in many nations, create their own parents, and cut off parts of themselves to form new entities. They ... do not need fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, or safe food to eat."

I AM NOT GOING TO SAY that corporations should not exist. They serve a legitimate purpose. They accumulate capital for large business ventures while minimizing the risk of the investors, but under the current system, the legally defining laws governing them have gone well beyond that simple scheme to the point where they now are above the law, morality, and democratic principles.

Under current statute, U.S. citizens have little or no input or control over corporations. For all intents and purposes, "consent of the governed" has been lost since, by law', corporations are treated as individual people. The issue of personhood essentially is the issue of who is in charge? The Constitution says the people rule. Yet, when judges proclaim corporations to have attained personhood, they become rulers. What do they rule over? The government, at least according to the Constitution.

These corporate "persons" have been given many superhuman qualities. They have infinite life spans, reside simultaneously in many nations, create their own parents, and cut off parts of themselves to form new entities. They cannot go to jail for committing a crime, and do not need fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, or safe food to eat. These and other extraordinary qualities--combined with constitutional protections intended for natural persons--have enabled large transnational businesses to acquire enormous wealth and political power that is used by a few to rule over many.

Historically, before 1886, corporations had to have a specific purpose written into their charter, and this business license generally was granted to those who operated in the public interest: if they failed to fulfill their stated purpose, or exceeded their authority, their charter could be revoked. (The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1909 that since the corporation is created by the state, it is presumed to be incorporated for the benefit of the public.) Operating charters were granted for a specific period of time, usually 10 to 30 years, and ceased to exist after that period unless renewed. Corporations could not own stock in other businesses or real estate beyond what they needed to conduct their mission. State legislatures set the rates they could charge for their products or services. All associated records and documents were open to the public, or the legislature or state attorney general, depending on the state. Executive officers, directors, and stockholders could be held personally liable sometimes for treble damages--for all harms and debts caused by the corporation. Moreover, corporations were prohibited from making may donations to political candidates, directly or indirectly.

The fiction of corporate personhood came about during the late 1800s. This was the Guilded Age, a time when the sinister pattern of purchasing political favors for money was common. These were the days of the most corrupt administrations in American history, from the Ulysses Grant presidency to William Marcy "Boss" Tweed of New York City to the Robber Barons. The nonelected--at that time--Senate was so pro-business and possessed so much wealth it became known as the Millionaires' Club. Federal judges also could amass huge fortunes as shareholders, if only they could find a way to subvert governmental regulation and oversight.

Then, in 1886, a court reporter for the Supreme Court claimed that body had ruled that "corporations are persons" in the Santa Clara v. Union Pacific Railroad case. How ever, the Court had made no such decision. Although the headnotes are not even a legal document, subsequent courts and attorneys have clung to this corrupt interpretation of the 14th Amendment, which actually was passed to guarantee the rights of emancipated slaves. …

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