“Make Shadowy Campaign Money the Issue This Election.” The White House is “stepp[ing] up attacks on what it describe[s] as a tidal wave of secret outside money.” Corporations, freed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, are making large, unreported donations to “charities” like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and Norm Coleman’s American Action Network. Public interest groups like the Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center are wringing their hands over the money pouring into the system, fearing that it will corrupt the process.
Now, I understand the reasons for concern. No reasonable person wants bribery or quid pro quos in the political process. But I’m here to stand for what is apparently a remarkable proposition: corporations are people too. Or rather, corporations are groups of people with justifiable interests and deserve to be heard and to participate in the political process.
Corporations are taxed, they are subject to laws and regulations, and they are independently liable for their actions. In short, they are legal actors, just as much as you. And, likewise, they are affected by the political process, just as much as you.
Remember, the injustice of “Taxation Without Representation” was a key motivation behind the American Revolution. If the ability to suffer detriment without a say in the process justifies revolution, then shouldn’t corporations get at least some say in the political process? If a coal company is being targeted by energy legislation, shouldn’t it be able to raise its collective head and suggest that maybe its interests—and its owners’, employees’, and customers’ interersts—be taken into consideration? Or should we exclude the entities with the most expertise from the political process, ensuring that we don’t understand what the legislation is going to do to the affected industry?
I’m not suggesting that corporations have the right to vote or that they should be treated the same as natural persons. I am not even suggesting that corporations shouldn’t be treated differently from natural citizens when it comes to campaign finance regulations. But the working assumption among many commentators that corporations have no legitimate interest in the political process, and particularly not in the legislation that attempts to target them. That’s remarkable.