Saturday, December 1, 2007

More on Campaign Finance Reform

I have argued that limiting donations to candidates by individuals is a violation of first amendment rights. I have also argued that a ban on private funding of campaigns is wrong. What is one way we can have our cake and eat it too? If we want to get CORPORATE money out of campaigns, its very simple:

Because of the unique frailties and depths of passion unique to humans, just after the United States Constitution was ratified Thomas Jefferson and James Madison began a campaign to amend it with a 12-point explicit statement that would clearly and unambiguously place humans - who had created government - above their creation. This was the birth of what would become the Bill of Rights, and it originally had twelve - not ten - protections for citizens’ rights.

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But on the issues of banning a standing army and blocking corporations from gaining monopolistic control over industries, Jefferson was getting resistance. The nation had just fought a bloody war against England, and there was little sentiment for completely dismantling the army. And the Federalists who were in power - a party largely made up of what Jefferson called “the rich and the well born” - were opposed to government constraints on business activities.

Thus only ten of his twelve visions for a Bill of Rights - all except “freedom from monopolies in commerce” and his concern about a permanent army - were incorporated into the actual Bill of Rights, which James Madison shepherded through Congress and was ratified as the first ten amendments to the constitution on December 15, 1791.

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During this same period, because everybody understood Paine and Jefferson’s argument that human-made institutions must be subordinate to humans themselves; virtually every state had laws on the books that regulated the behavior of corporations.

The corporate form is, after all, just a legal structure to facilitate the conversion of products or services into cash for stockholders. As Buckminster Fuller wrote in his brilliant essay The Grunch of Giants, “Corporations are neither physical nor metaphysical phenomena. They are socioeconomic ploys-legally enacted game-playing-agreed upon only between overwhelmingly powerful socioeconomic individuals and by them imposed upon human society and its all unwitting members.”

Thus, states made it illegal for corporations to participate in the political process: politicians were doing the voters’ business, and corporations couldn’t vote, so it didn’t make sense they should be allowed to try to influence votes. States made it illegal for corporations to lie about their products, and required that their books and processes always be open and available to government regulators. States and the Federal government claimed the right to inspect companies and investigate them when they caused pollution, harmed workers, or created hazards for human communities, even if in the early years that right was unevenly used.

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With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, the owners of the what were then America’s largest and most powerful corporations - the railroads - figured they’d finally found a way to reverse Paine’s logic and no longer have to answer to “we, the people.” They would claim that the corporation is a person. They would claim that for legal purposes, the certificate of incorporation declares the legal birth of a new person, who should therefore have the full protections the voters have under the Bill of Rights.

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Another great irony of this event is that the Bill of Rights was designed to protect human persons because of their vulnerability in relations with other human persons who may be much more powerful. But corporations are bestowed with potential immortality, can change their identity in a day, or even tear off parts of themselves and instantly turn those parts into entirely new “persons.” Yet regardless of all these superhuman powers, corporations are now considered persons.


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An internet search on the phrase “corporate personhood” will find thousands of sites discussing or devoted to the topic, and models of legislation to remedy the error of 1886.

But the first step, as always, is awakening people to the root cause of the problems we face - the use of corporate personhood by a handful of the world’s largest enterprises to insinuate themselves into governments and seize control of legislative and regulatory agendas. As enough voters learn the history and realize the consequences of this, the solution - ending corporate personhood - will become more and more possible, and Paine’s and Jefferson’s original idea of democracy representing “we, the people” will come back to life.


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