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January 22, 2010

Groups React to Supreme Court Decision on Campaign Finance

A key issue: Whether personhood applies to corporations.

Focus on the Family Action, Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America praised yesterday's Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend money on political advertising. Sojourners, meanwhile, condemned it.

"The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion. "When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that "the court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

"The distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant," Stevens said, especially when talking about elections. "Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. … 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."

"This is sophistry," Kennedy responded in the majority opinion. "The authorized spokesman of a corporation is a human being, who speaks on behalf of the human beings who have formed that association—just as the spokesman of an unincorporated association speaks on behalf of its members. The power to publish thoughts, no less than the power to speak thoughts, belongs only to human beings, but the dissent sees no problem with a corporation's enjoying the freedom of the press."

Christian political organizations, some of which have recently been arguing against extending definitions of personhood to include some marine life, side with Kennedy in seeing corporations as people with speech rights.

"This is a win for free political speech and the right of corporate citizens to join the political process," said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. "Had the court not acted as it did today, the United States would have continued down the road of ever increasing restrictions and impediments to the expression of political speech."

Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Young Nance agreed. "The government should not be limiting political speech because someone is rich or poor, or because they disagree with a particular point of view.

Indeed, as Focus on the Family Action spokesman Tim Goeglein indicated, groups like his speak frequently as institutional voices that may be stronger than any single personality. "Organizations like Focus on the Family Action, the family policy councils, all of our allies— this [Supreme Court decision] will give us an incredible voice in the great issues of our time."

Actually, said Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, the ruling "will give a huge boost to the special interests that already exercise a stranglehold on our political system, allowing them to tighten their grip and further prevent any meaningful change. … At a time when financial reform is at the forefront of people's concerns, giving big banks and corporations a green light to even further influence our political process is an outrage and an assault to democracy."

At First Things, Hadley Arkes is one of the few to discuss the corporate personhood issue:

It is curious that the dissenters do not appreciate this axiomatic point: that a corporation is simply another form of an association of "human persons." The question was raised in the first case eliciting a set of opinions from the Court (Chisholm v. Georgia, 1793) … On what ground could a state be obliged to honor its promises and contracts? On the same ground that a person can be obliged to honor his promise, for he has made people vulnerable to the prospect that the promise will be kept. But if that holds true for the ordinary human person, why would it not hold true for an organization that is simply an association of human persons? It made the most profound difference that one understood "the State," in America, as an association of free persons, who have a claim to be ruled only with their consent.


Wow. The above comment reeks of a planted post. The only people who would think this was a good thing, are those in large corporations who can now use this to push their own agenda. You're not fooling anyone.

@Marcus: "The above comment reeks of a planted post."
Me? Planted? Naw, not me. I'm just a middle school language arts teacher who has been around since the '50's and has seen a little too much "guvment" [sic] interference. Besides, I was totally taken by surprise by what Justice Kennedy said:
Read each line slowly and let it sink in:

"The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,..."

"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought.

This is unlawful.

The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

Pretty tough and frank language from Antony Kennedy.

Marcus, maybe you think he is a plant, too.

Even a SC Justice sees the creeping facism.

As for my enthusiam for our country, well, I plead guilty. God bless the USA!

I think this ruling is horrendous. But I'm trying to figure out - can churches, as nonprofit corporations - now endorse and support candidates?

Regardless of what you think of the opinion, look at Justice Kennedy's first line: "The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach,..."

"The censorship...is vast in its reach." Exactly how vast?

And "When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law... it uses censorship to control thought."
Control thought!
What he left unsaid and WHO he was referring to may be as revealing as what he did say.

You know, I don't think I've ever heard a S/C justice say something this revealing, this refreshing, this incindiary, this conspiratorial - not that I read the opinions of the S/C on a regular basis. At last, we have a conspiracy theory worthy of being true - and it is a S/C justice who blows the whistle on the conspirators. Gosh, who might they be? I wonder.

So Jim Wallis is concerned about special interest money. No Campaign Finance Reform legislation has managed to curb special interest money in politics. McCain-Feingold did not as it permitted the formation of 427s, mostly favoring Democrats, to funnel money to candidates. Wallis never complained when an organization he supports, ACCORN, received Federal money. Campaign Finance Laws are designed to keep incumbants in office while making it extremely difficult if not impossible for challengers to reach the public with their own message.

Kennedy's reasoning in the prevailing opinion seems very logical and persuasive: a corporation is a means of expression by citizens, so their free speech is citizens' free speech. Like it or not, there's the logic. I'd like to hear any argument against it, because I can't think of a good one.

I think the ruling does one good thing for sure: it makes campaign money much more traceable. Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress will likely make a law to make the names of corporations or unions conspicuous in the ads, like the Surgeon General's warning on cigarette ads. Say what you want, but tell everyone who you are: that seems like a good thing to me.

Religious, right wing nut jobs. You're all nuts and your views have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity

@Dan Smith: "Religious, right wing nut jobs. You're all nuts and your views have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity."

Glad you could unburden yourself, DS. Hope you feel much better now. And the topic at hand is what we were addressing.

So, tell us, exactly how does your little post have anything to do with Christianity? You silly pots always pointing at the kettles and saying, "You're black."

Still, what political idiology and persons is Justice Kennedy referring to?

In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that "the court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

"This is sophistry," Kennedy responded in the majority opinion.

[Definition of sophistry - a deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone]

Is Kennedy saying that Stevens and the minority opinion are being intentionally deceptive?
"You better smile when you say that partner."
"Them are fightin' words."

Are corporations really persons?

Do corporations think?

Do corporations weep?

Do corporations fall in love?

Do corporations grieve when a loved one dies as a result of a lack of adequate health care?

Do corporations have loved ones?

Are corporations even capable of loving?

Do corporations sometimes lose sleep at night worrying about disease, violence, destruction, and the suffering of their fellow human beings?

Do corporations feel your pain?

Is a corporation capable of having a sense of humor? Is it capable of laughing at itself? (EXAMPLE: "So these two corporations walk into a bar....")

If a corporation ever committed an unspeakable crime against the American people, could IT be sent to federal prison? (Note the operative word here: "It")

Has a corporation ever walked into a voting booth and cast a ballot for the candidate of its choice?

We all know that corporations have made a mountain of cash throughout our history by profiting on the unspeakable tragedy of war. But has a corporation ever given its life for its country?

Is a corporation capable of raising a child?

Has a corporation ever been killed in an accident as the result of a design flaw in the automobile it was driving?

Has a corporation ever written a novel or a dramatic play or a song that inspired millions?

Has a corporation ever risked its life by climbing a ladder to save a child from a burning house?

Has a corporation ever won an Oscar? Or an Emmy? Or a Tony? Or the Nobel Peace Prize? Or a Polk or Peabody Award? Or the Pulitzer Prize in Biography?

Has a corporation ever performed Schubert's Ave Maria?

Has a corporation ever been shot and killed by someone who was using an illegal and unregistered gun?

Has a corporation ever paused to reflect upon the simple beauty of an autumn sunset or a brilliant winter moon rising in the horizon?

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a noise if there are no corporations there to hear it?

Should corporations kiss on the first date?

Could a corporation resolve to dedicate its vocation to being an artist? Or a musician? Or an opera singer? Or a Catholic priest? Or a Doctor? Or a Dentist? Or a sheet metal worker? Or a gourmet chef? Or a short-order cook? Or a magician? Or a nurse? Or a trapeze artist? Or an author? Or an editor? Or a Thrift Shop owner? Or a EMT worker? Or a book binder? Or a Hardware Store clerk? Or a funeral director? Or a sanitation worker? Or an actor? Or a comedian? Or a glass blower? Or a chamber maid? Or a film director? Or a newspaper reporter? Or a deep sea fisherman? Or a farmer? Or a piano tuner? Or a jeweler? Or a janitor? Or a nun? Or a Trappist Monk? Or a poet? Or a pilgrim? Or a bar tender? Or a used car salesman? Or a brick layer? Or a mayor? Or a soothsayer? Or a Hall-of-Fame football player? Or a soldier? Or a sailor? Or a butcher? Or a baker? Or a candlestick maker?

Could a corporation choose to opt out of all the above and merely become a bum? Living life on the road, hopping freight trains and roasting mickeys in the woods?

I realize that this is pure theological speculation on my part but the question is just screaming to be posed: When corporations die, do they go to Heaven?

Our lives - yours and mine - have more worth than any damned corporation. The Supreme Court's decision on Thursday was beyond wrongheaded. Not only was it obscene - it was an insult to our humanity.


Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

But as you can see Tom Degan, some christians obviously think that corporations can indeed be personalized. Just look at some of the responses made by some of those who call themselves even right here on this site

Can a corporation be a citizen? of this nation? This activist ruling just opened our political process to foreign-controlled corporations. They can legally pour cash into our elections now. China Inc. can use its stash of dollars to buy itself several senators. The unintended consequences of this ruling are astounding.

There's a movement to radically change California government, by getting rid of career politicians and chopping their salaries in half. A group known as Citizens for California Reform wants to make the California legislature a part time time job, just like it was until 1966.



One thing is sure in Politics and many other Human Endeavors, as the old saying goes: Every man has a Price. So now is going to Cost more for the Corporate World to buy Men and Women, than before. It's all and everyone for grabs now. It's going to be more competitive and the competition will be fierce. So the question would, could be; How Much $$$$?


The ruling would seem to give essentially artificial person actual human personhood...essentially the same rights as human resident aliens...even if those who control a corporation are not citizens or resident aliens.

Would this mean that the actual people who control corporation would have more free speech rights than those of us who don't?

It might also tacitly encourage a return to the "Spoils" (patronage) system of government, where government bureaucracy is completely dependent upon employment at the pleasure of the President's party, or state governors...though that's a "feeling" which I haven't worked out as an argument, just yet.

But then, I guess I could have a union speak for me on the same power level as corporations. So, this might actually encourage people to unionize in self defense.

Still, the ruling sounds like a return to a sort of Jim Crow paternalistic feudalism, where one essentially has to have someone high up in the social hierarchy to vet and sponsor any petitions to our governments for redress of grievances, lest one get buried under the plutocratic power of corporate "free speech."

This ruling, then, looks like something that the religious right, in general, obviously wants, given its apparent support to eviscerate the First Amendment when it comes to Gay people's petitions for redress of their grievances on marriage inequality.

If one person can only give $400.oo, but another person(corporation) can give one million dollars to a candidate or political campaign how is that equal access?

Let me think about this...if I remember correctly.was it a guy named---John something. What perhaps it was someone named McCain...that's right, John McCain who wanted fair elections and limited amounts of money spent on elections so politians could focus on the issues (regardless of the party). That guy was OK, someone who considered all sides of an issue. That John McCain, the candidate I would have voted into the White House has disappeared. I truly believe that John McCain would have looked at his fellow party members and said, get real, I'm for honest elections and this is not right.

Now that corporations have the right to free speech can we also agree that flag burning should also be considered protected speech?

I believe we should be moving in exactly the opposite direction. First, politicians should be able to raise funds only from individuals in the district they serve. They would all be on a level playing field. If they lived in a rich district, they would have equal access to individuals in that district. If they lived in a poor district, all candidates would be on an equal footing in their attempt to raise funds. And it would come from the very people they are elected to represent. Other organizations would be free to try to influence the people via ads, etc. But politicians could use only the funds given by individuals in their dictrict to fund their campaign. No corporation or special special interest groups could give directly to candidates. Those groups would have to use their funds to enlist the support of the of the people who will cast the vote. They would be taken out of the picture of direct financial support to candidates.

I fear that the "government of the people, by the people and for the people" has become the government "of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations". The individual with the vote has been illiminated from the governing process.

I believe that we should go in exactly the opposite direction. Candidates should be able to raise funds only from individuals in the district they wish to serve. They would be on a level playing field. If they were in a poor district, they would have the same source for funds as they would in a rich district.

Corporations or interesty groups could attempt to influence the voters by ads in the district but they could not directly contribute funds to any candidate.
They would be limited to attempting to influence the voters who would elect the officials. We would once again have an election "of the people, by the people and for the people" not what we have now....a government "of the corporations, by the worporation and for the corporations".

To the individual who asked whether this means churches, as non-profit corporations, can endorse political candidates: They've always been able to, as long as they're not fussy about keeping their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Unfortunately too many of them would like to give endorsements AND remain tax-exempt. No way, Jose.

We already have the best government money can buy. All this decision does is formalize the arrangements.

The less expensive, cheapest form of Government is Military Dictatorship. The proof of that is that only poor Countries have been able to afford them most of the time. With a few exceptions of course!

I believe that the only way to get rid of all this corporate money is to is to tell them in a law that if they spend x amount of dollars to a candidate's campaign, they must spend at least double that amount into a non profit that works "with the people", not for or against corporations or special interest lobbyests

Or maybe just give them a certain amount of free time on TV, the printed press(newspapers, magazines, etc.) and make sure that they will vote for or against legislation they made "promises" they made on the campaign trail.And if they do not keep up to their campaign promises, they cannot run for elected office again!

McCain-Feingold basically said this: we politicians are too weak and corrupt to be trusted with all this money. To which my reply is: Fine. Retire – now. Get out of the way an open up your congressional seat to men and women of character. Limiting free speech is no solution to the problem morally inadequate politicians. Here’s a plan: I say we let the people keep their free speech and we toss out all politicians who ‘have a price’.

But, you may say, doesn’t money equal power when it comes to elections? To which I would say: how much money did Scott Brown spend driving around in a pickup truck?

Our President, in his State of the Union address, decried this Supreme Court decision, conjuring images of 'bought' elections, etc. My message to the President and everyone else is this: Freedom is scary - but not nearly as scary as the alternative.

Speaking of Presidents, I'd like to think the Founders or Abe Lincoln might say something like: a people guided by principles of honesty and integrity need not fear liberty.