Third Party & Independents Archives

The ol' grey corporation just ain't what it used to be, ain't what it used to be...

I have taken the liberty of using other people’s words to create this post. A link to the source is provided.

The object of the Fourteenth Amendment. Its mission was to raise the humble, the down-trodden, and the oppressed to the level of the most exalted upon the broad plane of humanity - to make man the equal of man; but not to make the creature of the State - the bodiless, soulless, and mystic creature called a corporation - the equal of the creature of God. …

Ironically, of the 307 Fourteenth Amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court in the years between his proclamation and 1910, only 19 dealt with African Americans: 288 were suits brought by corporations seeking the rights of natural persons.

Regardless how it happened - whether it was a simple error by Davis, or Davis was bending to pressure from Fields, or if Davis simply took it upon himself to use the voice of the Supreme Court to modify the United States Constitution - the fact is that an amendment to the Constitution which had been written by and passed in Congress, voted on and ratified by the states, and signed into law by the president, was radically altered in 1886 from the intent of its post-Civil War authors.

And the hand on the pen that did it was that of J. C. Bancroft Davis.


In the early American republic, corporations existed only by special state grant to promote the public good. Corporations today are no longer subject to such restrictions. They now function like a secular aristocracy that rules over a slave class. In light of the immense wealth and power held by corporations, granting them equivalent rights as individuals is irrational and dangerous.

Activist William Meyers writes that corporate personhood "changes the relationship between people and corporations, between corporations and the government, and even between the government and the people. The effects of these changes in relationships range from loss of liberty and income for citizens to the destruction and poisoning of the earth and the corruption of the U.S. government."

Meyers concludes: "Corporate personhood allows the wealthiest citizens to use corporations to control the government and use it as an intermediary to impose their will upon the people."

Thus, corporate personhood is not just a kind of "free radical" unleashed into an otherwise organized, healthy system. It is something that actively destroys that healthy system. In other words, corporate personhood corrupts and destroys democratic government.


One of the most damaging acts to ever occur in this country was the case of Santa Clara County v. the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in 1886, in which the Supreme Court gave corporations many of the rights and protections of an individual, but not the responsibilities of an individual. This has paved the way for untold greed and exploitation.


Regardless of the origins of the concept, case law has been consistently on the side of corporate protections under the equal protection clause. And case law has extended that protection to other parts of the Constitution and federal laws, including the Bill or Rights and Section 1983 of the US code which allows for civil action for deprivation of rights. For example, in 1978 the Supreme Court ruled in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti that corporations have a First Amendment "right" to influence ballot initiatives and other political campaigns.


TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation by Richard L. Grossman and Frank T. Adams 1993 Charter Ink

Preface: Corporations cause harm every day. Why do their harms go unchecked? How can they dictate what we produce, how we work, what we eat, drink and breathe? How did a self-governing people let this come to pass?

Corporations were not supposed to reign in the United States.

When we look at the history of our states, we learn that citizens intentionally defined corporations through charters -- the certificates of incorporation.

In exchange for the charter, a corporation was obligated to obey all laws, to serve the common good, and to cause no harm. Early state legislators wrote charter laws and actual charters to limit corporate authority, and to ensure that when a corporation caused harm, they could revoke its charter.

During the late 19th century, corporations subverted state governments, taking our power to put charters of incorporation to the uses originally intended.

Corporations may have taken our political power but they have not taken our Constitutional sovereignty. Citizens are guaranteed sovereign authority over government officeholders. Every state still has legal authority to grant and to revoke corporate charters. Corporations, large or small, still must obey all laws, serve the common good, and cause no harm.

To exercise our sovereign authority over corporations, we must take back our political authority over our state governments.


Perhaps the eloquent words of Thomas Jefferson best sums up the founder's outlook toward corporations. . "I hope we shall take warning from the example of England and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our Government to trial, and bid defiance to the laws of our country "


That task is the only one consistent with the principle of self-rule on which this country was founded and the only one appropriate for a sovereign people in a democratic society: We must define the corporation, instructing it in what it can and cannot do for the common good. The bars to our cage lie in our own minds that have become colonized by the sheer dominance of huge corporations over our lives and our communities. These corporations increasingly determine not only who will do what kind of work and what we eat and wear but what we think as well. One result of the corporate domination of our culture is the TINA phenomenon: There Is No Alternative.

"What if...," asks Jane Anne Morris of Democracy Unlimited in Wisconsin, who may be the only corporate anthropologist at large in North America:

**corporations were required to have a clear purpose, to be fulfilled but not exceeded.

**corporations' licenses to do business were revocable by the state legislature if they exceeded or did not fulfill their chartered purpose(s).

**the act of incorporation did not relieve corporate management or stockholders/owners of responsibility or liability for corporate acts.

**as a matter of course, corporation officers, directors, or agents could be held criminally liable for violating the law.

**corporation charters were granted for a specific period of time, like 20 or 30 years (instead of being granted "in perpetuity" as is now the practice.)

**corporations were prohibited from owning stock in other corporations in order to prevent them from extending their power inappropriately.

**corporations' real estate holdings were limited to what was necessary to carry out their specific purpose(s).

**corporations were prohibited from making any political contributions, direct or indirect." (Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly, #488, April 4, 1996)



Judge-Made Law

But keeping strong charter laws in place was ineffective once courts started aggressively applying legal doctrines which made protection of corporations and corporate property the center of constitutional law.

As corporations got stronger, government became easier prey; communities became more vulnerable to intimidation.

Following the Civil War, and well into the 20th century, appointed judges gave privilege after privilege to corporations. They freely reinterpreted the U.S. Constitution and transformed common law doctrines.

Judges gave certain corporations the power of eminent domain -- the right to take private property with minimal compensation to be determined by the courts. They eliminated jury trials to determine corporation-caused harm and to assess damages. Judges created the right to contract, a doctrine which, according to law professor Arthur Selwyn Miller, was put forward as a "principle of eternal truth" in "one of the most remarkable feats of judicial law-making this nation has seen."

By concocting the doctrine that contracts originated in the courts, judges then took the right to oversee corporate rates of return and prices, a right entrusted to legislators by the U.S. Constitution. They laid the legal foundation for regulatory agencies to be primarily accountable to the courts -- not to Congress.

Workers, the courts also ruled, were responsible for causing their own injuries on the job. The Kentucky Court of Appeals prefigured this doctrine in 1839: "Private injury and personal damage . . . must be expected" when one goes to work for a corporation bringing "progressive improvements." This came to be called the assumption of risk, what professor Cohen dismissed as "a judicial invention."

Traditionally under common law, the burden of damage had been on the business causing harms. Courts had not permitted trespass or nuisance to be excused by the alleged good works a corporation might claim. Nor could a corporation's lack of intent to cause harm decrease its legal liability for injuries it caused to persons or the land.

Large corporations -- especially railroad and steamship companies - pressured judges to reverse this tradition, too. Attentive to lawyers and growing commercial interests, judges creatively interpreted the commerce and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Inventing a new concept which they called substantive due process, they declared one state law after another unconstitutional. Wages and hours laws, along with rate laws for grain elevators and railroads, were tossed out.

Judges also established the managerial prerogative and business judgment doctrines, giving corporations legal justification to arrest civil rights at factory gates, and to blockade democracy at boardroom doors.

Corporations were enriched further when judges construed the common good to mean maximum production -- no matter what was manufactured, who was hurt, or what was destroyed. Unfettered corporate competition without citizen interference became enshrined under law.


As Ishmael's pupil asks when Ishmael has informed him that those who want to save the world from destruction by humanity are unable to do so because they cannot find the bars to their cages: "What do we do next?" While the agenda for action in arenas we the people define is long, complicated and still unfolding, a good place to begin is to take away corporate personhood. That means working toward the reversal of Santa Clara, and for those who say it cannot be done, I would remind them that for half a century "separate but equal" was established judicial doctrine.

Our political democracy is indeed mythical; we live instead in a plutocracy in which the rich with wealth accumulated more often than not through corporate mechanisms are effectively dominating, if not controlling, the electoral process. Reversing Santa Clara will not restore our democracy overnight, but getting corporations of all kinds -- large and small, profit and non-profit -- out of politics will go a long way toward doing so.


Unequal Protection : How Corporations Became "People" -- And How You Can Fight Back (Paperback - Revised Ed.)
by Thom Hartmann

The Twilight of Democracy : The Bush Plan for America (Paperback)
by Jennifer Van Bergen, Common Courage Press

Posted by Weary Willie at March 6, 2011 8:44 PM
Comment #319765

Dang Willie! You gave us a lot of homework! Lol! Thanks for the links.

Posted by: Kevin L. Lagola at March 7, 2011 9:14 AM
Comment #319767

Thanks…..this post is a public service. Looks like we all may agree on this one.

Posted by: steve miller at March 7, 2011 1:36 PM
Comment #319768

Great post Willie:

IMO, the corporations, actually their wealthy owners, have used their political influence derived from that ruling to make us and the government their cash cows.

The government is a cash cow for the oil companies, for the military industrial complex corporations, and a cash cow for many other corporations in many other ways. Even many of the programs to help the poorer members of our society are cash cows for corporations.

They get their taxes back and then some. They have sloughed the burden of helping the under class off on the middle class; causing great animosity and division among the people.

They use the talking heads of their media outlets to propagandize every divisive issue they can to effectively take the spotlight off them. Those who would dare bring this before the people are labeled with tags, socialist, communist, progressive.

They have used their money to buy themselves a liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat coalition who’s primary purpose is to support the corporate agenda and sow division. Political contributions by the corporations are nothing to some of our more powerful and influential politicians compared to profit that can be made from knowing valuable insider trading information.

That fourteenth amendment decision also helped create the impetus for the progressive movement in which my great grandparents fought back against the excesses demonstrated by wealth.

Today, we are close to being totally dependent on the corporations, causing us to surrender even more power to them.

As I said, these are my opinions.

We are their huckleberry’s so let’s help the corporations make that Fourteenth Amendment decision the law of the planet.

Posted by: jlw at March 7, 2011 4:11 PM
Comment #319773

Weary, best article to appear on WB to date, IMO.

You can’t grow roses in a cesspool. Real reform is not possible until: corporate personhood is abolished and real campaign finance reform implemented.

Only way this can be done is through a new 3rd party with a different political attitude. A centrist/populist party with two objectives; abolish corporate prsonhood and implement real campaign finance reform.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at March 7, 2011 7:47 PM
Comment #319778

I’ve always suggested going local, making a difference on the local level. This link is to a story of how a local government took control away from the corporations.

The Boston Tea Party was an act of defiance by our Founding Fathers against unchecked corporate power.

In Humboldt County we also know what it’s like to be pushed around by large corporations. In 1999 Wal-Mart spent $250,000 in an attempt to change Eureka’s zoning laws. In 2004 Maxxam spent $300,000 trying to recall our District Attorney after only three months in office. The price to fight these giants and defend our democracy came at a tremendous cost.

Unelected judges and corporate lawyers claim that corporations are legal “persons” with the same rights as human beings. “Corporate personhood” weakens people’s rights to free speech and equal protection. Our Founding Fathers never intended corporations to have this kind of power.

Any corporation rich enough to sue can claim that laws protecting workers, the environment, communities, or small businesses violate their “rights.”

Large corporations have used their “personhood” status to gain access to the ballot box and spend obscene amounts of money on push polling, paid petitioners and high-priced consultants.

It’s time for a “T” Party of our own…
It’s time for Measure T!
Measure T will protect local control by ensuring that only individuals, local organizations and local businesses can make financial contributions in Humboldt County elections.

Measure T is backed by the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights, a group of local citizens dedicated to protecting our right to local control of our community.

Ordinance Text
Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy

Posted by: Weary Willie at March 7, 2011 10:10 PM
Comment #319783

Weary, did you notice that there were no Republican or conservative endorsements of Measure T?

That is because they were busy having it declared null and void, unconstitutional.

Corporate personhood and a corporations right to buy any office holder from the local dog catcher to the president is accepted constitutional law and it would take a Constitutional Amendment, or an Article V convention to change the law.

The Republican conservatives and possibly even the Democrats power structure would use the S word unsparingly to attack any efforts in this regard.

Humboldt County looks to be a stronghold of progressive Democrats and Greens.

Posted by: jlw at March 7, 2011 11:31 PM
Comment #319792

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.

Posted by: Weary Willie at March 8, 2011 9:24 AM
Comment #319797

You found the nut alright, but it is going to take a lot of squirrels to crack it.

Roy, great to hear from you, you’ve been missed.

Posted by: jlw at March 8, 2011 3:04 PM
Comment #319807

jlw, yes, a lot of squirrels required. Better to try and fail than not to —-

A good reason to support the push for Article V Convention. I would suggest that the fear that ‘corporate personhood’ would be on the table with AVC is the main reason congress continues to deny this constitutional right.

I don’t see that we have any other choice if we want our country back.

Otherwise - - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at March 8, 2011 10:41 PM
Comment #319808

Roy, I tend to side with Dan, we won’t chose to want our country back unless or until the pain gets to great to manage.

My concern is that an Article V Convention might not even address corporate personhood let alone change it. Who would choose the delegates and who would the delegates be? I’m afraid the answer to both questions will be politicians. It is not going to be like American Idol where we are all waiting on the part where we vote on each new amendment.

We also know that any attempts to dilute the power of wealth is going to be met with a barrage of propaganda aimed at the population. Glen Beck would be working overtime.

Posted by: jlw at March 8, 2011 11:19 PM
Comment #319810

Weary, excellent post.

“They have used their money to buy themselves a liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat coalition who’s primary purpose is to support the corporate agenda and sow division.”

Not just these guys, jlw, but the libertarians as well. The only difference is how little they need to spend to convince the libertarians to support the corporate agenda. It is my belief that in fact some of the staunchest defenders of corporate “rights” are the libertarians and their philosophical leader Ayn Rand.

Posted by: j2t2 at March 9, 2011 2:50 PM
Comment #319814

j2t2, yes, the libertarians as well. There are many contributing groups. Social conservatives duped into supporting the corporate agenda because of the social issues. Good old boys with guns willing to work for 59 cents per hour as long as they can keep their guns. Perhaps they won’t work for 59 cents per hour but it seems their brains aren’t capable of considering two possibilities at the same time. Anti-union union members, etc.

Posted by: jlw at March 9, 2011 4:38 PM
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