Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Corporate personhood: don't regulate, eliminate!

Bonnie Preston, one of the Alliance's vice co-chairs, was one of the resource speakers at a recent teach-in at the University of Maine-Orono. Bonnie has been an active organizer for local food and self-governance ordinances in her part of Maine. She spoke alongside BJ McAllister, of Maine Clean Elections. Maine's governor is no fan of the state's clean election system, and has attempted to defund it. 

Here's what Bonnie said to the group:

Good afternoon! My name is Bonnie Preston, and I am a member of the Alliance for Democracy, which believes that the overarching task of our time is to get our democratic republic out of the hands of the mega-corporations and back into the hands of We the People.

Money in politics is not just about elections and how they are financed. More insidiously, it is about the two arms of the revolving door--lobbying and corporate capture of the agencies of government. It’s hard to pin down the number of lobbyists in Washington DC right now, but it is certainly dozens for each of our elected representatives in Congress. Many of these are former elected officials. For example, Billy Tauzin led the fight to pass a Medicare prescription drug plan that forbade negotiating prices with the drug manufacturers. After that signature achievement, he went to work for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing of America (PhRMA), the lobbying arm of the drug industry, where he became the highest paid health-law lobbyist in the country.

The flip side of people leaving government for lobbying is leaving the private sector to work for a government agency, temporarily of course. Exhibit A is Michael Taylor, who has moved back and forth from Monsanto to either the FDA or USDA for decades. He is now in charge of writing the regulations that will support the Food Safety Modernization Act, now in final draft form. If implemented, these rules could put an end to small farms in the US.

These two forces are driving the complete take-over of government by the private sector, and no campaign finance reform will touch this.

So what can we do to get the government back in our hands? The Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court galvanized people so dramatically that it has opened a door to a possibility that many of us who have worked for years on this issue have seen as a distant hope, if not a pipe dream. Since 1886, the Supreme Court has granted corporations more and more specific constitutional rights; corporations have used these to increase their political power.

The founders kept corporations under control. Corporate charters, required to show how the corporation would serve the public interest, had to be approved by state legislatures. They were limited in time and scope, had to be extended if desired by the legislatures, and could be revoked if the corporation failed to serve the public. A corporation could not buy another corporation, so they must stay small and competitive.

Today, monopolistic corporations, which include the too-big-to-fail Wall Street banks, are preventing progress on everything we need to do if we are going to continue to live on this planet. The rights we have given them are even being enshrined in international law through the World Trade Organization and the NAFTA-style trade agreements. This trade regime is culminating in the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with all the powers of NAFTA, but with a significant difference. Once in place, countries will not have to negotiate a trade deal; they will simply sign on to the TPP. The multi-national corporations, with the enforcement powers of the trade organizations backed by the military might of supposedly democratic governments, are growing into a force that will totally destroy our ability to govern ourselves in a humane and environmentally sound way.

We must directly confront corporations and the concept of corporate personhood. A Constitutional amendment that ends corporate personhood as well as the concept that money is not speech is necessary. Abraham Lincoln did not try to regulate slavery, or end it in steps, or disclose its evils. He backed the 13th amendment, which freed the slaves. We are still cleaning up the mess created by slavery, and we will have a lot of work to do to clean up the messes that corporations have made as well, but a Constitution that says that corporations are not persons with constitutional rights will provide the solid ground we can stand on as we do that work. AfD, a founding partner of the Move to Amend coalition, is committed to this type of systemic change.

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