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Corporations Do Not Have the Same Rights as US Citizens

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On Thursday, January 21st, 2010, the Supreme Court made a very shocking announcement over the Constitutionality of campaign reform laws dating back to the early 1900's in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ramifications of the decision to nullify bans against corporations, labor unions, etc., directly influencing elections with their own ads are enormous. Although the application of the Law or the outcome of a case should not depend upon the implications to the state or what is legally most convenient, this extremely activist decision by the supposedly conservative wing of the Supreme Court is steeped in faulted judicial review. Most dangerous is the jurisprudence of these Justices that seems to, at the very least, suggest business entities are citizens who are guaranteed the same Constitutional rights and freedoms as individuals.

Businesses, no matter what their size or function, are not people nor do they have the rights of a citizen or the power of a governing body. There are no Constitutional rights for supposed corporate citizens, except possibly one for news providers as "the press." While some may suspect bribery or other underhanded dealings, the inappropriate aspects of this ruling were actually the result of a very twisted modern view in politics, which has developed over the last fifty years or so, that somehow equates the "corporate citizen" to be an actual US Citizen. Certainly, businesses have rights under the law, as they should, especially in terms of property rights, but they are not people and they cannot be citizens of a nation-state. Their owners and employees are people and may be US Citizens, yet that does not give the business protections under the Constitution; it only guarantees these individuals as individuals have rights.

Certainly, campaign reform laws have faults due to the complex nature of limiting speech and parts of the ruling were likely correct; however, the implications of this radical decision will be felt across all of America and throughout all industries around the world. Beyond the conflicts of interests, which will arise from citizens and corporations sharing the same rights, yet often dissimilar interests in our nation-state's policies, the political system will likely eventually be over run with campaign spending by special interests looking to drown out alternative opinions. This means special interest groups will be able to saturate the American political landscape every election with one campaign ad after another in favor of candidates that support the interests of corporations, though the outrage over this decision may delay the immediate onslaught.

Corporate America is primarily concerned with less restrictive regulations, less competition, especially from innovative startups, and subsidies in the form of tax breaks and bailouts, among other policy interests. With the need to rewrite patent and intellectual property laws, as well as define regulations to disallow certain practices or shortcomings of technologies, those with the resources to influence policy will have greater opportunity to guarantee those patent laws, intellectual property rights, and regulations favor those already in business and punish those looking to enter the marketplace. With unethical business practices and unhealthy competition already plaguing our economy, which can be clearly identified when looking at the banking industry, the American political system is likely to get a lot dirtier.

Furthermore, this decision will also be damaging to Corporate America. Because one firm or industry is certain to increase spending on lobbying and campaign spending, all firms in various industries will feel compelled to do so. As a consequence, the Citizens United ruling will eventually setoff an arms race and all the American corporations will spend what they must to survive. This is money that should be spent on innovation and new technology as well as expanding the fundamentals of our economy. In tandem, the blow back on corporations could be very detrimental. The American people have become quite irate with the political world and special interests over the last few years; new spending in campaigns is certain to stoke that fire.

Fortunately, the internet, which sadly hurt still essential traditional media outlets, will be the only saving grace. With the youth increasingly active on the political front and information technology their resource for facts, reputable sources like Wikipedia, politico.com, and factcheck.org will also grow in significance. The internet is the great equalizer when it comes to spending in the political world while we have been learning over the last few election cycles that money is only so influential in our new world. (Despite increases in campaign funding and spending, excess spending does not appear to buy a candidate very much in unfriendly districts.) Although credible traditional sources like PBS can be diminished from the push of special interests, the internet cannot be so readily attacked. It will be individual bloggers and independent sites that will call corporations on their dirty political tactics.

The corporations that try to manipulate elections will ultimately be the focus of extremely bad press, but that may not mean much in terms of protecting our political system. On the other hand, this assessment is a worse case scenario, yet we must understand the full implications of Court decisions and ideologies that claim nonliving entities have the same Constitutional rights as US citizens. Because corporate interests are so narrowly focused, i.e. unreasonable profits for far too many firms, given the chance to behave irresponsibly with unethical behavior for their perceived benefit, they will. In fact, the temptation is so great that I would not even trust Google, which for now is a fairly ethical company, with the privileges this damaging Supreme Court decision bestowed upon Corporate America.

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