This site is a publication of the
Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy
REAL Democracy History Calendar – sign up!
Move To Amend Campaign:
We are pleased to announce the creation of a new resource: the REAL Democracy History Calendar.
You are invited to sign up to this new free weekly email resource – to be sent out beginning January 1, 2016. To sign up, click here.
Corporate entities and individuals of extreme wealth have to a major extent captured our government and economic institutions. Basic political, economic and human rights are in decline. The result is a lack of real democracy — defined as the ability of those who are affected by decisions having an authentic voice in the shaping of those decisions.
However, people have always strived for basic rights, resisted oppression, created alternative structures, and sought to control the power and influence of corporate entities and extreme wealth in society through education, advocacy and social movement organizing.
To sign up, click here.
The REAL Democracy History Calendar will provide 1-2 listings per day sent by email every Monday morning of activities, events, quotes from prominent individuals and/or other occurrences (both past and recent) on the themes of democracy, human rights, corporate power and rule, and wealth in society (especially in elections).
The Calendar is a joint production of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) and Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Much of its base comes from our research and writings on these themes over the last two decades.
Our goal is to inform, intrigue and inspire — and to illuminate the reality that creating real democracy will not happen by changing any one politician, passing/repealing any one law or regulation, or reversing any single Supreme Court decision. It requires, rather, changing our political, economic and social culture - one byproduct of which will be to democratize our legal structures through genuinely inclusive, multi-issue, nonviolent social movements.
To sign up, click here.
Below are a listing of postings over the next several weeks – to provide a flavor of the Calendar’s contents that would be sent by email each week beginning January 1.
If you feel this would be valuable information to you, please sign up here. And please spread the word to others!
Thank you for your consideration.
REAL Democracy History Calendar
1799 – Death of George Washington, first President of the United States of America – need for coercive power
“We probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of a coercive power,” said George. According to historian Charles Beard in “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” Washington was probably the richest man in the colonies at the time of the Revolution.
1896 – Covington & L. Turnpike Road Co. v. Sandford (164 U.S. 578) Supreme Court decision – corporations are persons
The Court declared, “it is now settled that corporations are persons, within the meaning of the constitutional provisions forbidding the deprivation of property without due process of law, as well as a denial of the equal protection of the laws.”
1791 – Ratification of the Bill of Rights
The first 10 Amendments to the Constitution were adopted to protect We the People from excesses of government and to affirm certain inalienable rights of human beings. At the time, however, We the People were only white males who owned property and were over 21 years old. Each state decided how much property must be owned to qualify to vote or run for office
1986 – Justice William Brennan delivered opinion of Supreme Court in Federal Election Committee v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc. (479 U.S. 238) – spending by corporations in elections may make them formidable power
“Direct corporate spending on political activity raised the prospect that resources amassed in the economic marketplace may be used to provide an unfair advantage in the political marketplace…The resources in the treasury of a business corporation…are not an indication of popular support for the corporation's political ideas. The availability of these resources may make a corporation a formidable political presence, even though the power of the corporation may be no reflection of the power of its ideas."
1773 – Colonists stage Boston Tea Party to protest British Tea Act
Parliament passed the Tea Act, which provided the East India Trading Company complete access to the colonies and exempted it from paying taxes to the colonies – increasing the profits to company stockholders, which included Parliament members and the King. This undercut colonial tea merchants who were required to pay taxes on tea.
Boston Tea Party participants saw themselves as anti-corporate protestors. Their call for “no taxation without representation” was not one against paying taxes, but rather an insistence that every entity – including the East India Company – should pay their fair share and that no entity should be taxed without governmental representation.
1964 – Death of Alexander Meiklejohn, Philosopher and Educator – on 1st Amendment and freedom threatened by dominant business enterprises
The 1st Amendment "does not intend to guarantee men freedom to say what some private interest pays them to say for its own advantage. It intends only to make men free to say what, as citizens, they think.”
“[I]nsofar as a society is dominated by the attitudes of competitive business enterprise, freedom in its proper American meaning cannot be known, and hence, cannot be taught. That is the basic reason why the schools and colleges, which are, presumably, commissioned to study and promote the ways of freedom are so weak, so confused, so ineffectual.”
1882 – Death of Henry James, Sr. – on democracy
"Democracy is not so much a new form of political life as a dissolution and disorganization of the old forms. It is simply a resolution of government into the hands of the people…”
2009 – Publication this month of article, “People as Property: Criminalizing Color, Dissent and Impoverishment through the Prison-Industrial Complex” by Karen Coulter, principal of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD)
“Slavery and involuntary servitude were supposedly abolished by the 13th amendment to the Constitution. However, the amendment reads that slavery and involuntary servitude shall no longer exist in the U.S. ‘except as punishment for crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted’…Then there are the investors in the prison industry: American Express Corporation invested millions in private prison construction in Oklahoma; General Electric Corporation financed prison construction in Tennessee; Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, and other Wall Street investment firms made big profits by underwriting prison construction with the sale of tax-exempt bonds, a 2.3 billion dollar industry as of 1997. Some of the largest Wall Street investment corporations started buying bonds and securities from private prison corporations in the '90's and reselling them for profit to individual investors, mutual funds and others, literally speculating in the growth of locking up more and more people. The rise of the prison industrial complex can be accurately seen as part of a profound transformation restructuring U.S. economic development and its forms of social control. Philip Wood identifies corporate colonization of decision-making structures as a key element of the changes in U.S. public policy supporting the expansion and privatization of the prison industry.” http://www.poclad.org/BWA/2009/BWA_2009_DEC.html
REAL Democracy History Calendar
1885 – Corporate lawyers claim railroad corporation’s 14th Amendment rights violated
In San Mateo v. Southern Pacific R. Co., 13 F. 722 (C.C.D. Cal. 1882), corporate lawyers attacked a provision of the California Constitution that assessed higher property taxes against railroad corporations than against non-corporate properties. The attorneys charged that the state violated the railroad’s “rights” under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The parties settled the case before the Supreme Court announced a decision; however, the argument would be used one year later in what would become the very first time corporations were granted 14th Amendment “rights” by the Supreme Court in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 US 394.
1970 – Birth of Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) – politicians are open to the highest bidder
“Lobbyists and career politicians today make up what I call the Washington Cartel. … [They] on a daily basis are conspiring against the American people. … [C]areer politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder.”
1913 – Congress passes Federal Reserve Act – Creating Federal Reserve System
The Act created a largely corporate controlled national banking and currency system, passed in the House by 298-60 and in the Senate by 43-25 and signed by President Wilson on this day. It was a major coup for banking corporations through the establishment of a private central bank authorized to "monetize" government debt (i.e. to print their own money and exchange it for government securities or I.O.U.'s). The central banking system was composed of 12 regional private/corporate banks owned by participating commercial banks. All national banks were required to join the system. Banking corporations now controlled the issuance and distribution of our national currency. By controlling our national money faucet, they could create inflation and deflation. This corporate monopolization of our currency allowed for public regulation, but not control. It was now banking corporations, not the U.S. government, that controlled the national currency. Congress handed its Constitutional power under Article 1, Section 8 to create our money over to private banking corporations. It’s the ultimate form of “privatization” – more accurately “corporatization” – of what was meant to be, and should be a public function or service.
1962 – Birth of David Cobb, national Outreach Director for Move to Amend and principal of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD)
Cobb debated James Bopp in September, 2014 at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN on “Citizens Divided: Corporate Money, Speech, and Politics.” Bopp is General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech and was lead attorney for Citizens United, the group that argued their corporate 1st Amendment “speech rights were violated when prevented to air a political program just prior to the election.”
The “debate” turned out to be one-sided – with Cobb presenting a much stronger case for why corporations should not be granted “personhood” rights and money should not be granting “free speech” rights than Bopp arguing the reverse.
Watch the debate at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijSsZdCatTM
2015 – Christmas – Jesus attacks “money changers”
Celebrated birth of Jesus Christ in Christian calendar.
In his only public act of violence, Jesus drove the “money changers” with a whip of chords out of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem, which he called “my Father’s house.”
Modern-day money changers are banking corporations – the most economically and politically dominant of all corporations. They have captured our most sacred democratic “house” – our government. They, too, along with all other corporations, need to be driven out of our government.
2015 – Boxing Day - corporate personhood, money equals free speech and U.S. Constitution “boxes” activists into small spaces of what is doable
“Boxing Day” is an annual holiday celebrated in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations. Traditionally, it was when servants or employees would receive gifts from their bosses or employers in “Christmas boxes.”
Many Supreme Court decisions anointing corporations as legal “persons” and money as “free speech,” as well as many limitations of the U.S. Constitution (i.e. no direct election of President, no national initiative provision, no definition of economic rights, among many others) have been anything but gifts to individuals striving for real democracy. They have, rather, “boxed” activists into ever-smaller spaces concerning what laws and regulations can be passed. Unable to limit the amount of money in elections from individuals and corporate entities and incapable of preventing corporations from asserting Bill of Rights protections, the super wealthy and corporate entities have captured greater portions of public policies and public spaces and, in turn, shrinking these public arenas for the vast majority of citizens.
For background on limitations of and possibilities for a more democratic Constitution, see http://poclad.org/BWA/2007/BWA_2007_DEC.html and http://poclad.org/BWA/2007/BWA_2007_MAR.html#3
1907 – Death of John Chandler Bancroft Davis – unilateral action yielded first Supreme Court corporate “personhood” decision
Davis played a historical role in the corporate personhood debate. As the court reporter in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (118 U.S. 394, 1886), his responsibility was to prepare ‘a summary-of-the-case commentary.’ He wrote in the headnote to the decision that Chief Justice Morrison Waite began his oral argument of the court’s opinion by stating, ‘The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”
Davis’ published reports and notes from 1885-1886 contained his views on the Santa Clara case: ‘The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Thom Hartman and other journalists and authors charged Davis with a conflict of interest as previous President of the Newburgh and New York Railway in his role in the Supreme Court ruling. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bancroft_Davis
REAL Democracy History Calendar
1856 – Birth of Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States of America – on the need for corporations and government to work together
“Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process.“ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/09/usa-sponsored-terrorism-mid-east-since-least-1948.html
1947 – Birth of Spencer Bachus, former Republican Chair of the US House Financial Services Committee – regulators serve banks
"In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."
2014 – Big money breaks out: Top 100 donors give almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined
“The 100 biggest campaign donors gave $323 million in 2014 — almost as much as the $356 million given by the estimated 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less,” a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings found.
‘When 100 big donors give as much almost 5 million small donors, with whom do we expect candidates to spend their time, and whose interests do we think they will represent?’ McKinnen asked. ‘That’s not democracy. That’s oligarchy.’”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/top-political-donors-113833#ixzz3ta7ebjxE
2011 – Pittsburgh City Council passes resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood
The resolution also called for returning elections to the American people.
1945 – Birth of Harvey Wasserman – exposes fraudulent electronic voting machines
Wasserman is an anti-nuclear and safe energy activist, journalist and senior editor of the Columbus Free Press. He has co-authored numerous articles with Bob Fitrakis on election fraud of elections since 2000, with special emphasis on the 2000 and 2004 election results in Ohio.
Wasserman and Fritakis have recently written.
“The way our electoral process now stands, electronic voting machines guarantee a Republican victory in 2016…
“Source codes remain "proprietary," so the public has no control over the private machines on which our allegedly democratic elections are conducted. There is no usable paper trail, transparency or accountability.
“We are concerned that all voters get fair access to the polls, and all votes are fairly counted, no matter who the candidate. We have no doubt the Democratic Party would be just as willing to flip elections from Republicans as vice versa, and that both have, can and will do the same to the Green Party and other challengers.
“So we support universal hand-counted paper ballots, automatic universal voter registration, a four-day national holiday for voting, major restrictions on campaign spending and a wide range of additional reforms meant to guarantee some kind of democracy in the United States.”
Featured Poclad Article
Gorsuch’s Gory Expansion of Corporate Personhood
by Greg Coleridge
Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch didn’t invent “corporate personhood,” the shorthand term used to describe the ludicrous decisions by U.S. Supreme Courts to sanctify corporate entities with inalienable constitutional rights intended exclusively for human beings.
As a federal judge, however, Gorsuch contributed to its expansion by applying it in creatively delusional ways in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby1. That 2014 case established that a “closely held”2 for-profit corporation, apart from the human beings connected to it, possesses religious rights.
Corporations were originally subordinate to We the People
Supreme Court Justices began more than a century ago twisting existing constitutional doctrines into a pretzel to justify with straight faces that corporate charters issued by federal and state governments possessed constitutional rights.
As followers of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) are well aware, corporate entities were not intended originally at the nation’s founding to possess inalienable constitutional rights. They were granted charters, or licenses, one at a time by We the People via legislatures that precisely defined the limits of their actions. These included, among many others, limited charter durations and purposes, limits on the amount of land ownership, and stipulations of who could be corporate directors
Corporate charters were deemed to be democratic tools wielded to ensure public authority and control over subordinate corporate creations by the public. The corporate charter conferred “privileges,” not “rights.” Corporations were designed to be publicly accountable. If a corporation violated the democratically determined terms of its charter, state legislators or courts often revoked its charter with its assets distributed to those negatively impacted.
In a 1900 ruling to revoke the charter of a dairy corporation, the Ohio Supreme Court stated:
The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world. In the present case the acts of the defendant have been persistent, defiant and flagrant, and no other course is left to the court than to enter a judgment of ouster and to appoint trustees to wind up the business of the concern.3
The role of a corporation was to provide useful goods or services. It wasn’t to lobby, contribute or invest in political campaigns, or even to engage in charitable activities.
Corporations become legal “persons”
All this changed when corporate agents began effectively influencing state legislatures and in the appointment of corporate attorneys to the Supreme Court. Corporations escaped democratic controls by pressing legislatures to adopt general incorporation laws (vs. one-at-a-time charters); and by shifting legal power from smaller to larger and more inaccessible arenas:
- The state to federal level,
- Legislatures to regulatory agencies, and,
- The legislative and executive branches to the judiciary (i.e. courts, including the Supreme Court).
It didn’t take long for corporate lawyers to appeal decisions limiting corporate actions to their peers on the Supreme Court, which “found” corporations as legal persons in a wide number of unforeseen places in the Constitution. These included within the 1th Amendment (right to speak and right not to speak), 4th Amendment (right against search and seizure), 5th Amendment (right against “takings”) and 14th Amendment (right of due process and equal protection of the laws). Corporate attorneys also hijacked the Contracts and Commerce clauses, which became anti-democratic battering rams.
Scores of federal court decisions over the last century have widened and deepened corporate constitutional rights. These decisions overturned local, state and federal laws that had previously protected workers, consumers, communities and the environment. In this way, the occupants of corporate boardrooms increased the political and economic power of the corporation at the expense of ordinary people.
As evident from this brief historical account and despite what many believe, the 2010 Citizens United vs FEC4 Supreme Court decision didn’t initiate the anointment with inalienable constitutional rights to corporate entities. The controversial 5-4 split decision by the Supremes merely widened the already existing 1st Amendment free speech rights of corporate entities to make political donations (or investments) in elections.
Gorsuch further expands “corporate personhood”
While serving on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Neil Gorsuch played a prominent role in further widening and deepening constitutional “rights” bestowed on corporate entities in an entirely new arena: religion. He was among the majority who ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that federal law prohibited the Department of Health and Human Services from requiring closely held, for-profit secular corporations to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their employer-sponsored health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act if it violated the corporation’s religious beliefs.
You read it right: the corporation’s “religious rights.” The U.S. Supreme Court upon appeal affirmed the decision in a controversial 5-4 split decision.
Hobby Lobby Corporation’s owners claimed they shouldn’t have been forced to comply with federal laws that violated their personal religious convictions. They referenced the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from imposing a "substantial burden" on a person's exercise of religion, even in a generally enforced law.
Just to be clear about the decision: Gorsuch and others didn’t just rule that Hobby Lobby’s owners had constitutionally-protected religious beliefs, but that the artificial legal creation of the state itself, Hobby Lobby Incorporated, possessed religious convictions.
To extend and pretend that private, personal religious rights apply to public entities such as business corporations is a breach of a constitutional firewall with potential discriminatory implications. Dissenting in the case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "[t]he exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities," the ruling was “a decision of startling breadth” and “[t]he court...has ventured into a minefield.”5
The Hobby Lobby case opens the door as never before to requests for exemptions by private business corporations to laws that apply to human beings based on any number of claimed religious beliefs. Some individuals, for example, currently hold strong religious convictions about everything from racial, religious and sexual-orientation discrimination to the role of women in society. Hiring, paying, treating and providing benefits to employees are potentially up for grabs. Providing service (or not) to customers based on any number of factors is potentially at the whim of certain business corporations. Even specific for-profit charter schools could impose religiously motivated racial segregation policies on their students.
What existing or potential civil rights laws would not be impotent to claims that corporate discrimination against employees was motivated by strongly held religious beliefs of its owners? Thanks to Hobby Lobby, the corporation provides cover for business owners to impose racism, sexism, homophobia and classism. Those wishing to discriminate were handed a powerful weapon in the Hobby Lobby decision.
This isn’t just fantasy. It’s already happening. A federal district judge last year ruled that a transgender employee could be fired by a funeral home owner who believed that gender transition violated his biblical teachings6.
Ending corporate personhood
Corporate personhood has been normalized for too long – with disastrous legal, political, economic, social and environmental consequences. It’s not legitimate. It’s not democratic. It’s not human.
Never mind for the moment “fake news.” Corporate personhood is “fake constitutional law.” Corporations are corporations. People are people. Corporations are artificial legal, subordinate creations of the We the People. These artificial entities should receive only privileges, not rights, as authorized by the public.
It’s way past time to affirm that only human beings, not corporate entities, possess inalienable constitutional rights. Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment7 does just this. It should be our long-term goal.
In the immediate term, Neil Gorsuch has played a role in the gory expansion of corporate personhood. If we’re serious about protecting what little democracy remains in our nation, his nomination for the Supreme Court must be defeated.
The Citizens United decision was for many people the first time they had ever heard of “corporate personhood.” Thanks to the Gorsuch nomination and his ruling on Hobby Lobby, many more are becoming aware.
Call it the “Corporate Personhood Awareness and Wake Up Call 2.0.” This is a teachable moment to educate. It’s also an actionable moment to resist. Let’s take full advantage of these opportunities.
- 1573 U.S. ___ (2014)
- 2Closely held" corporations are defined by the Internal Revenue Service as those which a) have more than 50% of the value of their outstanding stock owned (directly or indirectly) by 5 or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year; and b) are not personal service corporations. By this definition, approximately 90% of U.S. corporations are "closely held", and approximately 52% of the U.S. workforce is employed by "closely held" corporations. [Source: Wikipedia]
- 3State ex rel. Monnett v. Capital City Dairy Co., 62 OS 350 (1900)
- 4558 U.S. 310 (2010)
Make a donation to POCLAD. Funds are needed for speaking, conferences, research, and minimal organizational maintenance. Contribute online at http://poclad.org/donate.html or by sending it to POCLAD, P.O. Box 246, S. Yarmouth MA 02664. For a tax deduction, send your check of $50 or more -- earmarked for "POCLAD"-- to the Jane Addams Peace Association, 777 United Nations Plaza, 6th Floor, New York City, NY, 10017. Thank you!