Corporations are not human, people are not brands

The logic of the latest Supreme Court ruling has me scratching my head a bit and scrambling to read my copy of the United States Constitution. I found all sorts of references granting rights to people, but none that granted rights to corporations. In fact, apparently there is no right of the people to incorporate, unless you count incorporating as assembly. Really, it’s not in there. Go read it for yourself; I’ll wait.

Corporations don’t have the right to free expression because corporations are not people, no matter how the State chooses to view them. Corporations are just containers of people working toward a common goal to make it easier for other containers of people — governments — to deal with them. And ironically, many times corporations insulate the people within the corporation from liability because of their choice of expression that offends or harms others. Ideally people should be able to express themselves by voting with their stock purchase on the action of the corporation.

Chief Justice Roberts asserted during arguments that if shareholders disagreed with the way the corporation was spending money to support a particular issue or candidate, they could merely sell their stock. And, in some cases, this is true but as more and more 401(k) programs have stock options for their employees that have limited periods of participation, this is simply not a reasoned or informed argument. When you throw in mortgage-backed securities and derivatives that are not severable from mutual funds that make up a large portion of 401(k) programs, the assertion becomes laughable. We may even see shareholder lawsuits demanding 401(k) reform based on this ruling.

It’s as if the Supreme Court has not been paying attention to all the causes of the current recession or worse, willfully ignoring them.

In any case, money is almost always the weakest argument. If you were able to persuade someone to agree with you on the merits of your argument, then you wouldn’t have to pay them. Consumers — and now voters — understand this and are quick to dismiss the legitimacy of influence when money is involved. We see this all the time with bloggers and their readers, between products and their endorsers.

In spite of the hysterical arguments that some have given regarding this ruling, I don’t see much changing with the exception of PACs becoming obsolete as they are now just the useless middle-man who adds no value. Political contributions are not tax-dedudible and the cost of contributions as a means to achieve a business goal must always be less than any other means for a corporation to engage in it. As anyone in business — and government — will tell you, influence is a very fickle thing. Senators are not cheap nor do they come with guarantees.

Money has always been the biggest point of influence with government. The voters know that. We are cynical because of it. Yet we continue to hope and believe that our Senators, Representatives and Presidents all aspire to their offices with the intent to serve the common good, even as we disappointed time and time again.

It is ironic, though, in the same period of the rise of social media and it’s rally cry for authenticity and a human voice behind the brand, the Supreme Court would rule that corporations have the same right of expression as does a human being. It’s one more thing with which government is out of touch.

Corporations are not human, people are not brands. To give corporations and brands the same rights and attributes as human beings and to see them legally as no different cheapens what is means to be human.