On Friday Mitch McConnell was speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute where he was confronted with a question regarding corporate personhood. Earlier this month Senator Jon Tester introduced a constitutional amendment clarifying that corporations are not “people.” Senator McConnell called the proposed amendment absurd.
“Well you have to give them some points for not hiding it… They are uncomfortable with corporate free speech obviously. They were not uncomfortable with corporate free speech when corporations that owned newspapers or television stations were engaging in it. They only become uncomfortable with it when the Supreme Court said, why should there be a carve out for corporations that own the media outlet and for no one else? It’s an absurd proposal and it won’t go anywhere.”
Tester is heeding the call of the people of Montana. In 2012, the people of Montana overwhelmingly voted for a measure that urges the Montana congressional delegation to propose a federal amendment restricting corporate expenditures during elections. Initiative 166 reaffirms Montana’s long history of regulating corporate power in their state. Since 1912 Montana has restricted corporate spending on elections which was overturned by the Supreme Court last year. Republicans are always harping about state rights; however, not a peep was muttered over this ruling to toss out the 100 year state law.
Tester’s amendment would overturn the controversial Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Another amendment proposed in the Senate by Senator Tom Udall would specifically authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for political campaigns.
Last year Colorado also passed a similar initiative which instructs the Colorado congressional delegation and state legislatures to back an amendment that would restrict campaign contributions and corporate spending on elections.
Mitch McConnell is facing re-election next year so it isn’t shocking why he doesn’t back any measure to reform campaign finance laws. The warped legal language that allows corporations to be considered a person contradicts over 200 years of American history beginning from the founding of this country. Republicans pride themselves on being spitting images of the founders and want the country to go back to the glory days of the early 1800’s. However, like a lot of the positions they hold, this perspective is in direct contradiction with the past. Corporations were highly regulated, restricted and accountable for their actions, contrary to what is spewed on Faux News and other conservative outlets.
Corporate charters used to be granted for a limited time and could be taken away just as quickly due to any corporate malfeasance. Meaning, “Too Big to Fail” and “corporations are people too my friend” would have been absurd concepts. Corporations were highly restricted to only partake in activities explicitly denoted in their charters. This also meant corporations weren’t allowed to buy massive amounts of property unless it fulfilled what was explicitly dictated in their charter. Owners and managers of corporations were held liable for any harm their companies did to the public, there were no shields granted by limited liability (LLC). The most important of all, corporations were restricted from making any political contributions or spending money to influence law-making.
Restricting corporations to dictate the course of American politics doesn’t make you un-American. As a matter of fact, the limitation of corporations and mistrust in elitist over reach is quintessentially American. We can’t expect the Supreme Court Justices, who benefit from corporations just as much as elected politicians, be the ones who dictate the course of our democracy. There are plenty of organizations that have mobilized to combat this absurd expansion of corporate power. Last year’s election spending topped 7 billion dollars, the most ever in a Presidential election. There is no better time for these amendments to be heard on the floor of the Senate. The time is now to limit corporate power and drive them away from influencing our political process.