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What writers write when they 1) aren't writing, 2) are avoiding writing or 3) need a word count to convince their spouses they are writing.

Origami n' Stuff 4 Kids

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Barbarians at the ballot

"I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
~Thomas Jefferson, in an 1816 letter to George Logan

"Instead of serving a king, our leaders could serve Burger King."
~Stephen Colbert, on the intentions of the Framers

Forget the misguided fear of socialized medicine...can no one see the corporate elephant in the room? The Supreme Court will soon be ruling on the constitutionality of campaign finance reform limiting the free speech of corporations (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission).

Forget what started all this nonsense, "Hillary: The Movie", a conservative "documentary" critical of the then presidential candidate. Personally, I think Hillary is as fair game as Sarah Palin--both should be able to withstand the slings and arrows inherent in any political campaign with the aplomb expected of leaders in high office; though I do think in the case of Palin, the lady doth protest too much. More like whine incoherently.

What's really at stake is the 102-year-old ban against corporations using their vaults of confiscated souls--oops, I mean cold hard cash--to influence congressional and presidential elections. Section 203 of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold Act) bars corporations (including nonprofit agencies using the corporate form) and unions from using their own treasury funds to broadcast ads to single out and attack a candidate within 30 days before a primary, or 60 days before a general election.

Not being a lawyer, I suppose this means they can circumvent 203 and attack a candidate if the money is derived from a PAC--a Political Action Committee, like if the ad is against legislation or general ideology instead of a specific candidate. Like banning Baby Dancing in subways, which everyone knows is a threat to national security.

And how do corporations plan to circumvent campaign finance reform? "Free speech," they shout. "We're people, too!"

I doubt the Framers of the U.S. Constitution, when they wrote the Bill of Rights, had corporations in mind. The people of the times were overwhelmingly and rightfully distrustful of tyranny and would never dream of swapping, as Stephen Colbert points out, King George with Burger King.

The intention of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, also known as the Reconstruction Amendment, was to include former slaves freed after the Civil War by granting citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States," thus granting them Constitutional rights. (Yes, Birthers, Barack is a citizen, whatever you choose to waste your time obsessing about.) So how can any corporation be a citizen protected by constitutional rights? Are corporations "born?" And what of companies like Toyota, not born in "The Boss's" U.S.A.?

This bullshit of corporations as living, breathing persons dates back to 1886 (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company), when railroad companies argued they were persons protected by the 14th Amendment. The problem is, the only decision made by the Supreme Court regarding the personhood and citizenship of corporations was to "(avoid) meeting the question."

However, court reporter J.C. Bancroft Davis (who happened to be a former president of Newburgh and New York Railway Co.) printed a quotation by Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite in the syllabus and case history above the opinion:
"The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in 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. We are all of the opinion that it does."

This statement was made pre-argument and appears only in the headnotes on the case: no opinion was ever rendered regarding the extension of the 14th Amendment to corporations.

The kicker is that Michael Kinder uncovered correspondence in the National Archives between Chief Justice Waite and court reporter Davis which supports that it was not the intention of the Justices that Davis' preface be regarded as the court's ruling. When Davis wrote Waite requesting verification of his quotation, the Chief Justice replied:
"I think your mem. in the California Rail Road tax cases expresses with sufficient accuracy what was said before the arguments began. I leave it with you to determine whether anything need be said about it in the report inasmuch as we avoided meeting the Constitutional question in the decision."

Suck on that, conspiracy theorists.

So, if corporations are people, too, can they vote? Does the creepy Burger King have the right to bear arms? And can I be first in line to sucker punch Goldman-Sachs?

©2009 Tammy Yee

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