Senator Boxer: Corporations Are Not People
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Have you ever hugged a corporation? Have you ever had lunch with one? Of course not. Those are ridiculous questions, because a corporation is not a person. But last week, the United States Supreme Court, in a controversial 5-4 decision that will have deep and lasting consequences we can only begin to imagine, basically said otherwise.
In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the majority reversed a century-old law and overturned decades of legal precedent when it decided that corporations cannot be restricted from spending unlimited amounts in federal elections because to limit that spending would violate the First Amendment.
The decision was astounding, not just because it was a gross display of judicial activism but because it defies common sense for the Supreme Court to conclude that corporations are citizens, as you and I are, in the eyes of the law. Many corporations make enormous contributions to our society, but they are not people.
Part of my job as an elected official in a democracy is to guard the people of this country from abuses of power. And in my three decades in government, I have never once met anyone who said: “You know what’s wrong with politics? There isn’t enough money in the process.” Almost everyone I know would argue the exact opposite.
But there is no doubt that the practical effect of the Supreme Court’s decision will be a monsoon of special interest money in our political process. According to the U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Fortune 100 Companies had combined revenues of $13.1 trillion during the 2007-2008 election cycle. If those companies devoted just 1 percent of their $605 billion in profits for that period to election ads, it could more than double the federally reported disbursements of all American political parties and PACs combined.
In the weeks and months to come, we’ll hear a lot of ideas about how to minimize the impact of this radical decision. For example, we should ensure that foreign-owned corporations cannot take advantage of the decision and that the CEO or Chairman of a corporation be required to appear in any ad as a sponsor, just as those of us running for public office must do.
Congress passed the landmark McCain-Feingold legislation in 2002 because the democratic process was being polluted by big money.
The Supreme Court, in an outrageous decision, undermined a key piece of that law. We need to do all we can to make sure that a corporation does not drown out the voice of the people.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer