We wrote this in 2007, and it's more true today than ever.
We hear a lot lately about the culture of corporate greed, and how it ultimately hurts the consumer and is a detriment to society. I don’t believe it was ever intended this way. After all, the free market is a huge part of what has allowed our nation to become a virtual land of milk and honey. Unfortunately, the cattle and bees are increasingly being concentrated in a few hands, as corporations and the growing aristocracy that controls them gain more and more power.
The legal entity of a corporation is a good thing, created and chartered by the states for two primary purposes: Limiting liability, and consolidating capital. The idea is that a group of people put their money together to create a business with a scale and reach larger than the sum of the parts. Shareholders split the profits in the form of dividends. Further, because there may be many shareholders who can’t necessarily know all of the workings of the business, liability is limited to the total value of the shares. The most that a person can lose investing in a corporation is the value of their shares. This is of course an over-simplification.
For legal purposes, corporations are treated as persons. They own property and pay taxes. They can sue and be sued. They have certain rights. But corporations are NOT people. They cannot vote, serve on juries, hold public office, or be drafted and sent to die in the service of their country. Corporations are a legal and financial instrument.
Corporations have boards of directors who have a legal and ethical fiduciary responsibility to protect, preserve, and increase the value to shareholders. These directors are also human beings who have moral, ethical and legal responsibilities to their families, their communities, their country, and their Creator. Conflict occurs when these obligations are at odds with one another.
As human beings, we all have our personal freedoms, but the cost is personal responsibility. With corporations, their freedom is somewhat restricted by regulation, because by their nature, corporate responsibility is responsibility to the shareholder. As history has shown us, unregulated greed leads to monopolies, and abuse of consumers and labor.
The problem we have now is the game: Somehow we seem to have gotten it into our heads that the Bill of Rights applies to corporations. Frankly, I disagree. As the framers said, people are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Corporations, on the other hand are chartered by the state, and as such, any rights they have are granted.
The point I’m slowly getting to here is that I do NOT believe that a First Amendment right to freedom-of-speech exists for corporations. I truly think that we would all be better off if certain restrictions were placed on corporate entities:
1. No political lobbying.
2. No political donations of any kind.
3. No political advocacy of any kind.
After all, our government is supposed to be a government of, by, and for the people. As long as the current rules allow for corporations to influence public policy, it is the ethical obligation of the officers and board members of that corporation to do their best to encourage public policy that protects the interests of the shareholders to the detriment of other market entrants or competing interests such as labor, public safety, or the environment.
Any corporation that unilaterally refuses to play the game finds itself at a disadvantage. The rules of the game, thus favor the ruthless.
What we have to do is change the rules. We, the people need to ensure that our representation in our state houses and in our federal government listens to people. I don’t have a problem if some of those voices are corporate shareholders or officers. They just need to get in line with the rest of us, and be subject to the same limitations on contributions as we. And in states like Texas, where individual contributions are unlimited, we need to create limits.
Who loses in this? Certainly not the corporations, they actually would welcome the level playing field and reduced expense of protecting their territories from other politically active corporations. The American people would benefit greatly when lawmakers are removed from temptation. Dirty politicians lose. Lobbyists lose. The political elite establishment loses.
Join with me in demanding a reform of our political system by shutting down the corporate feed trough, and shutting them out of the system.
Originally published February 8, 2007