Wisdom is a lady, I heard
With never cigars or a beard
She notes among us the righteous
And would not try to fright us
She is fair and smart and serene
And won’t ever dirty the clean
But why was she missing
When the Supremes were just pissing
In the eyes of us human beings
To support the corporate extremes
And making justice blinding
Instead of just blind
So that dollars are finding
The twist of the corporate mind
According to Linda L. Berger of the Mercer University School of Law, there are cases on file that have challenged our basic beliefs about the purposes of Democracy. She cites the Buckley and Bellotti cases creating a concept that essentially say that 1) Money is speech; 2) that corporations are people; and 3) that elections are marketplaces. The latest legislation by the Supreme Court of the United States has entered some new realm that brings up those three serious concerns needing our attention. Many of us prefer the definition of Democracy as government “of the people; by the people and for the people.” Abraham Lincoln made that a statement part of his Gettysburg Address, but it has become the soul, the essential part, of our self-concept as Americans. Commercial speech was not part of the concept so well molded by Lincoln, a great Republican and our greatest republican. He spoke of real people.
Linda Berger has written a great piece (What Is the Sound of a Corporation
Speaking? How the Cognitive Theory of Metaphor Can Help Lawyers Shape the Law) that enables us to see some fallacies in using metaphor for personhood. It is worth your time to read it. Corporations do not actually speak. Controlling individuals within a corporation may speak, but there is very little direct connection between speech by a controlling individual in a corporation and the shareholders of that corporation. Shareholders of Nike, for example, had no influence on the day-to-day “communications” of the company. To treat Nike as an individual “speaker” would be ludicrous given the reality that Nike is made up of thousands of people and controlled by only a few executives who do not consult with the thousands, except that the metaphor of personhood is employed to permit the illusion. Further, it was shown by opposition that Nike had used false information and claims to present an image that was in contrast to exploitation of labor in foreign countries, so the “exchange” of information could easily be confused with advertising instead of speech. Nike does not speak in the original sense of the First Amendment by using communication as a means of self-expression, self-realization, and self-fulfillment as the original and basic characteristic of a person.
As we face the real impacts of the recent Supreme Court decision, we should be startled to learn that we not only gave personhood to corporations, but we also transferred rights to money that were heretofore granted to people by saying that spending money is equivalent to free speech. In a humorous way, we “hear” used car companies advertise “Money talks and nobody walks.” The reality is that money does not talk. It is a questionable metaphor at best. The third leg of the strange corporate metaphor is that elections are commercial marketplaces. If that is not enough to turn your stomach, then perhaps you have become so cynical about politics that you have given up on the notion that only real people should determine the nature of the government that they give power to.
Unfortunately, there is still a fourth dimension to the granting of rights to all corporations that we extended to American corporations which people do not have and was not considered by Linda Berger because her piece was written before the Supremes recent “legislation.” Given that money now “talks” and that elections are “marketplaces,” what is to prevent LUKOIL of Russia, or CITGO of Venezuela from entering that election marketplace as interested corporations exercising free speech?
The Constitution and its First Amendment cover and describe the rights of American citizens. By stretching the metaphor to cover corporations, the Supreme Court has also given foreign corporations the same right as ours to enter the “marketplace” and speak with money to send a message through buying an election. The report, "Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America," shows that, from 1998-2008, Wall Street investment firms, commercial banks, hedge funds, real estate companies and insurance conglomerates made $1.725 billion in political contributions and spent another $3.4 billion on lobbyists, a financial juggernaut aimed at undercutting federal regulation. Nearly 3,000 officially registered federal lobbyists worked for the industry in 2007 alone. The report documents a dozen distinct deregulatory moves that, together, led to the financial meltdown. These include prohibitions on regulating financial derivatives; the repeal of regulatory barriers between commercial banks and investment banks; a voluntary regulation scheme for big investment banks; and federal refusal to act to stop predatory sub-prime lending. The Supremes so “re-legislated” the existing law with its decision as to include foreign corporations, that Hugo Chavez or Vladimir Putin or some Saudi prince or Chinese politician could invest millions into candidates that favor those countries instead of our own as long as they do it through corporations. If you liked Wall St. in New York, you will love Nevsky Prospekt in Moscow.
There is a solution, of course. Require colonoscopies of any “person” engaging in “free speech.” I hope that our Congress will see the new law for what it is as a giveaway to international corporate interests and restore the balance to Lincoln’s concept of government of the people, for the people and by the people. If not, it may indeed perish from the earth.
28 January 2010