Corporations and Politics

January 26, 2010 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

Citing freedom of speech, the US Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision allowed corporations to pour as much money as they want into the political process of the US. As well as using their many lobbyists to influence policy makers to see things to the corporations’ advantage, corporations can now spend as much as they want to influence the election of those same politicians. The court stated that the corporation is a person in the legal sense and as such has all the rights of a flesh and blood person. Corporations can sue and be sued, can be found guilty in a court of law, can be punished just like any real non-legally created person; the only thing a corporation can’t have happen to it legally is to be sent to jail.
I think this is lunacy from an ethical point of view. Not even considering whether or not a corporation is in fact a person like you and I or merely a legally created ‘person’ which is a whole other conversation, this decision, while legal, is ethically bankrupt. First of all, while the courts say corporations represent their shareholders and therefore can lobby for those shareholder needs, shareholders in any one corporation are not a unified whole. Shareholders are individuals each of whom has his or her own political viewpoints. Fairness is a critical ethical issue here. For a corporation like a bank to heavily fund a republican candidate, for example, because that candidate favours deregulation of banking laws assumes that every shareholder in that bank shares the same political viewpoint as the bank’s leadership. In fact that will never be the case. There will always be shareholders who, for whatever reason, don’t favour that viewpoint. How is the corporation then representing their viewpoints if those viewpoints do not coincide with the bank’s CEO? What we have is a sham, under the guise of the law now, in which the political and economic views of the corporate leadership cadre are assumed to be everyone’s viewpoint who is a shareholder. This corporate viewpoint then becomes the corporate ‘person’s’ viewpoint even if it is not the viewpoint of all the shareholders.
Every citizen has the right to vote but that right can only be exercised by the citizen physically going to a polling booth to caste his or her individual vote. A corporation cannot vote; while it may be deemed to be a ‘person’ for legal reasons it cannot cast an individual vote. Yet it can use all the resources it has available to it as a massive organization to influence what information gets out to the voting public and how that information is packaged or spun for maximum effect to the corporation’s benefit (read the corporate leaders’ sole interest is the interests of the corporation even when those corporate interests undermine or outright conflict with the public’s interests). In this case the values of fairness, honesty and respect can be severely compromised to pursue the well-being of the corporation at the expense of society as a whole. It has been profoundly proven by the recent economic crisis that what is good for the corporation is not necessarily good for society.
Democracy is not perfect. Yet it is the best political system we have developed that serves the well-being and interests of all citizens. This Supreme Court ruling undermines democracy. Historically, democracy evolved to protect the interests of the general citizenry from being usurped by the powerful few. We call rule by the few an oligarchy. What this ruling has done is paved the way for a dominant and controlling few, the corporate oligarchy, to unfairly influence our democratic process through its access to vast amounts of money and the influence that money can buy to pursue its own profit seeking agenda against the well-being of society as a whole. Ethics is about creating real trust so society can function well and all individuals have the opportunity to flourish, not just those who have access to huge amounts of money to support their own special interests. That trust has been severely undermined by this ruling.

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