Friday, January 25, 2013

Misguided Defense of Corporate "Rights"

Re: Another View: “Corporate ‘personhood’ rights can also defend freedom,” by William P. Shumaker, Portland Press Herald, 01.24.2013.

Good lord—the level of ignorance expressed in Mr. Shumaker’s editorial is astounding. He evidently has no clear understanding of the abject threat unfettered corporate influence poses to our representative democracy.

For starters, the groups he lists—Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and the Maine Education Association—are not “corporations” by any stretch of the imagination. The first two are nonprofit social/environmental advocacy groups; the MEA is a teachers union. Corporations are privately-owned commercial industries with vast, global presence like Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, Proctor & Gamble and 20th Century Fox. The Sierra Club a corporation…? Hardly. That’s like equating Portland’s independent Coffee by Design stores with a national corporate chain like Starbucks.

Secondly, the Portland Press Herald (which is itself owned by a corporation, Maine Today Media, Inc.) need not fear any of the losses of constitutional rights Shumaker outlines. Due to the inherent pro-business influence parent corporations exert over their media outlets, Bill Nemitz and other PPH columnists need not worry the paper will be “closed indefinitely” by the governor as Shumaker warns, because they have been in their positions long enough to have thoroughly ingrained the degree of gubernatorial criticism or other dissenting opinions the paper’s editorial staff--and, more importantly, its advertisers--will tolerate. (Maine Today Media also receives corporate backing from the financial firms, Citizens Bank and HM Capital Partners. Nonprofits like the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, receive the bulk of their contributions from individual supporters.)

In other words, the PPH and nearly every other corporate-owned newspaper already operate under the near-total chilling effect of a totalitarian government. And this is exactly why we need a constitutional amendment overturning the concept of corporate “personhood.”

The “difference” between corporations’ legal right to use unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, campaigns and political speech in general, and the right of unions and nonprofits to do the same—to answer Naran Row-Spaulding’s question in the Comments section--is one of proportionality.

Massive, financial juggernauts like Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, GE and the like can easily outspend rag-tag, supporter-funded outfit like Planned Parenthood. And they can certainly outspend financially-strapped unions—most of which are financially, politically and culturally weaker than at any other point in history. The way Row-Spaulding and the author describe it, one is to believe a company like Wal-Mart—the nation’s largest retailer and employer—would be afraid of losing business to the local mom-and-pop hardware store down the street. (Again, none of the groups Row-Spaulding lists below—NEA, AARP, Maine People’s Alliance, etc.—are for-profit corporations. Though, in fairness, AARP has behaved more like a corporation than a nonprofit in recent years, so I could conceivably give her that one.)

This issue has nothing to do with corporation members giving up their “rights as Americans” as Shumaker claims. Those of us who support abolishing corporate personhood are in no way attempting to curb anyone’s First Amendment rights. Rather, we are attempting to restore those of the average citizen. His attempts, furthermore, to cast this as a "two-sided" issue by indicting liberal groups and unions are misguided. It is a definitively one-sided issue as corporations currently hold all the power in our country. In his attempt to defend corporations' "rights," Shumaker comes off as an apologist for the very totalitarianism he warns of.

Mr. Shumaker is certainly entitled to his own opinion. But his understanding of the pervasive influence of corporate power in our country today is shaky at best.

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