I have been giving this Supreme Court decision some thought. Those of you with a legal bent will recall that this case ruled that corporations can give unlimited sums of money to political organizations seeking to influence elections. The court essentially recognizes corporations as persons under the law.
Is that a different animal than the previous creature? I mean if a corporation is more like a person than a contract, does it have citizen like responsibilities? Does it have a character, an ethos? … beyond earning money?
If a corporation is not a mutual agreement, a contract, between a number of individuals but an entity with rights, what does that imply?
It would seem to suggest that corporations are business and political organizations. What I mean to say is, this decision ratifies the idea of a corporation as essentially a small political party. Now, that may appear on its face to be no big deal. But let’s look more closely. Let’s say that a large corporation has 30,000 members counting stockholders and employees. There are many, many corporations with far larger numbers. Nevertheless, let’s use this as our example. The company has yearly profits of a little more than one billion dollars, again not particularly large considering the number and profitability of modern companies.
Thirty thousand members is not a large group compared to Democrats or Republicans or even Libertarians. However the Republicans and Democrats and other interest groups managed to spend about three and one-half billion dollars in the last election cycle’s presidential race. Our hypothetical company can play a major role in the presidential election with only a relatively small contribution of effort. If the company devoted 200 million dollars to the election they could have a major effect on the outcome. But what about the primaries? Well, let’s consider the Iowa primaries, a single state but often a make or break state for presidential candidates earlier on. What if our hypothetical company throws in a mere 20 million dollars to dispose of one candidate in a horse race of seven? How likely is that to be successful, particularly when the numbers are close in the first place?
Citizens United took corporations from a very significant though limited role in American politics and essentially created hundreds of small political parties unified under central leaderships with powerful legislative needs and freed them to use virtually unlimited funds to gain those ends.
I argue that some corporations will take on dual role, not just to make money but to forward pro business ideologies as well as traditional business needs and desires. Would shareholders be willing to tolerate a loss in profit during one quarter of a year every two years? And what if the company was able to prove that by its political advocacy it had made a return on the money of 50 or 100 percent?
Could you form an oil company or a manufacturing company whose sole purpose is to turn money into political power? Would there be people interested in doing this?
They would be investing in a political movement. Look at their advantages. Their money in the form of public shares would always be available. They could get it back provided the company was profitable. Yet, the continued investment in political action could get a far higher return than regular campaign contributions especially considering the unified leadership of a CEO and the other corporate officers who we may assume will have considerable political experience.
We might very well have a de facto multiparty state with all that that implies.