The roots of corporate personhood

As the progressive community anticipates the Supreme Court possibly opening the floodgates to corporate money in elections by upending the modest campaign finance laws on the books, Air America Radio’s Mark Green provides a valuable history lesson to remind us of the root of the problem (emphases added):

In the 1886 case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co., involving a routine local tax matter, the court reporter incorrectly put as the formal “headquote” of the decision something that was never argued or decided, namely that “the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations.” As Thom Hartmann describes well in his book Unequal Justice, this “decision” then became to be regarded as black-letter law, meaning that, in Justice William O. Douglas’s later lament, “corporations were now armed with constitutional prerogatives.”

Cut to 1976 when, in a poorly reasoned decision in Buckley v. Valeo, a 6-3 Court concluded that while donations could be restricted as potentially corrupting, there should be no ceiling on expenditures since that could be like limiting speech itself – which commentators have simplified into the ethic that money equals speech.

Now we find ourselves on the cusp granting corporations the constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, with the next possible Supreme Court decision on January 12. In the name of “free speech,” the speech of natural persons is in danger of being overwhelmed by corporate p.r. machines even more than it already is.  If activism around the Sept. 9 hearing day is any indicator, the American public will not take a bad decision lying down.