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Corporations have had life breathed into their legal identity, but they are alien to humanity.  Corporations do not need healthy earth to grow them food, for they do not eat; they do not need clean water, for they do not drink; and they do not need a healthy society, for they thrive off of base desire like greed and gluttony; so allowing corporations governance through unchecked campaign spending is allowing a type of foreign rule to take hold in the United States.  John Stewart Mill, who was employed by the British East India Company, recognized that despotic government by a foreign people is not suited to governing colonies for four reasons.

(1)    Foreign politicians are unlikely to have the necessary knowledge of local conditions needed to solve problems of public policy effectively.
(2)    Given cultural, linguistic, and often religious differences, the colonizers are likely to act tyrannically.
(3)    Even if the colonizers really try to treat the native peoples fairly, their natural tendency to sympathize with those similar to themselves (other foreign colonists or merchants) would likely lead to distorted judgment in cases of conflict.
(4)    Colonists and merchants go abroad in order to acquire wealth with little effort or risk, which means that their economic activity often exploits the  country rather than developing it.

We need a government of, by, and for the people, not bought and paid for by wealthy donors. The “Government by the People Act (H.R. 20)” puts the U.S. Congress back in the hands of ordinary Americans. While this Act would not go as far as I would like to curb corporate influence in this country, it is necessary if democracy is to survive.

Our democracy has one fundamental foundation: one person, one vote.  Being a citizen of the United States means having a voice.  We have the duty and the privilege to be heard.  However, these days it feels more like your vote is measured by the bulge—or lack thereof—in your wallet.  My heart drops whenever a friend tells me that she or he doesn’t vote anymore because her or his vote doesn’t matter.  This feeling that is far too prevalent threatens the legitimacy of our democracy, as our people come to the justified conclusion that the system is rigged and the true citizens of our United States are the corporations, and DC is awash in the tainted funds of corporate campaign cash. This problem was one of Thomas Jefferson's greatest fears at the founding of our Nation:

Cherish… the spirit of their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them.  If once [the American people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you & I, & Congress & Assemblies, judges & governors shall all become wolves.  It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.

Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Madison

The preferences of the top 10 percent of the income ladder diverge from the rest of the public, yet the 10 percent trumps the 90 percent nearly every time.  Martin Gilens' leading study on income and voter voice concludes that “under most circumstances the preferences of the vast majority of Americans appear to have essentially no impact on which policies the government does or doesn’t adopt.”   While this extremity seems new, it has been a long time coming.  Dissenting in 1933, United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis tolled a warning that echoed the words of American leaders since before the establishment of our Constitution.  He warned that the United States Government had become captured by corporations, dissolving into a plutocracy:  
Through size, corporations, once merely an efficient tool employed by individuals in the conduct of private business, have become an institution which has brought such concentration of economic power that so-called private corporations are sometimes able to dominate the state. The typical business corporation of the last century, owned by a small group of individuals, managed by their owners, and limited in size by their personal wealth, is being supplanted by huge concerns in which the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of employees and the property of tens or hundreds of thousands of investors are subjected, through the corporate mechanism, to the control of a few men. Ownership has been separated from control; and this separation has removed many of the checks that formerly operated to curb the misuse of wealth and power. And as ownership of the shares is becoming continually more dispersed, the power which formerly accompanied ownership is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. The changes thereby wrought in the lives of the workers, of the owners and of the general public, are so fundamental and far-reaching as to lead [to a comparison of] the evolving "corporate system" with the feudal system; and to lead other men of insight and experience to assert that this "master institution of civilized life" is committing it to the rule of a plutocracy.
It is doubtful that Justice Brandeis would have been surprised by the bailout that followed the onset of the financial crisis.

    Legal rights and privileges are more about concepts and perceptions than rules of nature.  The mere act of pooling money led people to the notion that the owners of that property should not be held liable for what their money pool does.  The Massachusetts Bay Colony was run based on a corporate charter, which lent it credibility in the eyes of those who found themselves held by a theocracy.  The Supreme Court has developed a theory of corporate personhood that extends rights of citizenship to people’s pooled funds  while continuing to allow limited liability.
From the start, states have competed for businesses.   To do so, they offer legal and fiscal incentives like charters to do any legal money-making behavior that a board should please, the elimination of actual residence requirements, unlimited capitalization, and non-requirement of public annual reports.  “The race to the bottom” starting gun was New Jersey’s 1891 incorporation statute that led to ninety-five percent of the Nation's large corporations moving to New Jersey within ten years, earning New Jersey the moniker “the traitor state.”   The Progressive movement got New Jersey to amend its incorporation law to be more restrictive in 1913, and Delaware moved to its current position at the bottom, or top, of the corporate incorporation pile.   Today, Delaware has a disincentive to regulate corporations because the aggregate of corporate taxes paid to it each year amounts to more than $750 million a year.

Corporations have had life breathed into their legal identity, but they are alien to humanity.  Corporations do not need healthy earth to grow them food, for they do not eat; they do not need clean water, for they do not drink; and they do not need a healthy society, for they thrive off of base desire like greed and gluttony; so allowing corporations governance through unchecked campaign spending is allowing a type of foreign rule to take hold in the United States.  John Stewart Mill, who was employed by the British East India Company, recognized that despotic government by a foreign people is not suited to governing colonies for four reasons:

(1)    Foreign politicians are unlikely to have the necessary knowledge of local conditions needed to solve problems of public policy effectively.
(2)    Given cultural, linguistic, and often religious differences, the colonizers are likely to act tyrannically.
(3)    Even if the colonizers really try to treat the native peoples fairly, their natural tendency to sympathize with those similar to themselves (other foreign colonists or merchants) would likely lead to distorted judgment in cases of conflict.
(4)    Colonists and merchants go abroad in order to acquire wealth with little effort or risk, which means that their economic activity often exploits the  country rather than developing it.
Of course, a modern analysis of Mill’s observation requires a moderate level of tweaking.  After all, we are talking about a transpecies type of colonization, not a colonization of people by people.  
 
Corporations do not have the necessary knowledge of local conditions to solve problems of public policy effectively.

    Like other types of corporations, “[t]he bank is something else than men.  It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it.  The bank is something more than men, I tell you.  It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it,” as put so elegantly by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.  As Justice Stevens wrote in his dissent to Citizens United, "corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their 'personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."    Thus what a corporation needs to live is not the same matter that humans need: “They breathe profits:  They eat the interest on money.”   Not only are corporations unaware of “the local conditions” of what it is like to be human, but often times what makes the most money, which is what they need to live and breathe, actually damages the air we breathe  and creates mutated unhealthy food  for humans.

Given cultural, linguistic, and religious differences between them and humans, the corporations are likely to act tyrannically.

Despite being at fault for risky bank practices that led to the financial near collapse of the economy, and with billions of taxpayer dollars spent on propping up major financial institutions, “there’s little or no evidence of repentance on Wall Street.”    The reckless activities at major financial institutions, taking outsized bets to the detriment of the larger financial system--AIG made $80 billion in bets by way of credit default swaps on subprime mortgage securities  while its CEO earned $107 million dollars over three years,  showed a toxic corporate culture that is out of touch with reality. See the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-21, 123 Stat. 1617 (2009)., xix, xxiv, 352. In April 2007, New Century Financial, a subprime mortgage lender, declared bankruptcy,  starting the financial collapse of western based markets.     In the years leading to the Financial Crisis, corporate gambling was systematic, which led to economic meltdown, all resulting in the worst ratio of corporate profits to wages since the great depression.   So ultimately, corporate America got bailed out and the American people paid the price.  This has given corporations no incentive to change, and in those corporate boardrooms officers talk about people in dehumanizing ways while clinging to the personification of the corporation.

Even if the corporations really try to treat the American people fairly, their natural tendency to sympathize with those similar to themselves (other corporations) would likely lead to distorted judgment in cases of conflict.

A 2005 explosion at an oil refinery owned by BP-North America (BP-NA) in Texas, killed fifteen with hundreds of casualties.   BP-NA was fined $50 million for a felony violation of the Clean Air Act  and later assessed $87 million in additional fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 270 previously cited violations, and 439 new violations.  Over the next five years, a pipeline in Alaska burst and spilled 200,000 gallons of oil on the tundra,  another BP pipeline broke, spilling even more oil on the tundra,   and then in 2010 the public took notice of the particularly harrowing Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, which exploded and sank, killing eleven workers  and precipitating the largest marine oil spill in world history.   Whether or not BP-NA actually has good intentions, its profit motive is clearly driving it to make decisions that are not beneficial to anybody.  The corporate form creates a system that cannot make responsible sustainable decisions.

Corporations exist in order to acquire wealth with little effort or risk, which means that their economic activity often exploits the country rather than developing it.  

    Revealingly, Spencer Stuart, which as a talent scout company for Corporate Executives believes that “Academic aptitude in language, math and spatial reasoning, which are measured through standard IQ tests, has little relevance to many of the day-to-day demands of business.”     The rise of the Chicago School of free market economics has createda class of executives who believe that the proper purpose of the public corporation is to make money for its dispersed shareholder “owner,”  and that the pursuit of any goal other than maximizing shareholder value represents inefficient “agency costs”  that are unethical.  This mindset is incompatible with making long term productive decisions like those needed to have a stable country; rather this type of thinking leads to extracting resources, gambling with people’s investments, and risking people in the pursuit of the quick buck.

    As of April of law year, 280 Fortune 500 companies have taken home a combined total of $27.3 billion because of an "excess stock options" tax break since 2010, according to a report by Citizens for Tax Justice.   In 2012 alone, the tax break cut Fortune 500 income taxes by $11.2 billion.   The break allows companies to write off the value of the stock options awarded to executives as compensation.    In 2012, Fortune 500 income taxes were cut by $11.2 billion, and Facebook paid no income taxes whatsoever.   This report was released in the midst of a debate in Washington over the best way to close the deficit.  According to the Government Accountability Office, corporate tax breaks represent $180 billion per year in lost revenue for the U.S. government.  A provison that protects the biotech giant Monsanto from litigation passed Congress while many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the “Monsanto Protection Act” even existed within the spending bill, HR 933, which was passed under duress to prevent a government shutdown.   But there is a solution in the make.

Last week, Rep. John Sarbanes introduced the "Government by the People Act (H.R. 20)," which seeks to undo the Citizens United v. FEC ruling, which determined that political spending was "a form of protected speech under the First Amendment."  Also last week, he was joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in writing an OpEd at the Washington Post , in which the Representatives joined a long line of concerned government officials, stretching back to before the enactment of our Constitution, who notice the power and influence that corporations wield over otherwise democratic processes:

Americans have seen it on their televisions and heard it on their radios: political ads backed by unnamed sources; the work of so-called advocacy groups backed by undisclosed donors; damaging policy agendas orchestrated by special interests; endless money muddying the waters of our debate with confusion and voter suppression.

This has been the impact over the past four years of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The narrow court majority, overturning decades of precedent, opened the floodgates to millions of dollars in secret, special-interest spending on elections. Indeed, Citizens United shook the foundation of our democracy: the principle that, in the United States of America, it is the voices of the people, not the bank accounts of the privileged few, that determine the outcome of our elections and the policies of our government.

The Government by the People Act, would:

Encourage the participation of everyday Americans in the funding of campaigns by providing a refundable $25 My Voice Tax Credit. This would bring the voices of the broader public into the funding side of campaigns and democratize the relationship between money and speech.

Establish a Freedom From Influence Matching Fund to boost the power of small-dollar contributions. To be eligible for these matching funds, a candidate would have to agree to a limit on large donations and demonstrate broad-based support from a network of small-dollar contributors. Amplified by the Freedom From Influence Matching Fund, the voices of everyday Americans would be as powerful as those of big donors.

Provide candidates with an opportunity to earn additional resources in the homestretch of a campaign so that the voices of the people are not completely drowned out by super political action committees and other dark-money interests. In the wake of Citizens United, this kind of support is critical to ensuring that citizen-backed candidates have staying power.

Creates People PACs, or small donor committees, that aggregate the voices and power of ordinary citizens rather than wealthy donors (as traditional PACs tend to do).

We need a government of, by, and for the people, not bought and paid for by wealthy donors. The proposal puts the U.S. Congress back in the hands of ordinary Americans. While this Act would not go as far as I would like to curb corporate influence in this country, it is necessary if democracy is to survive.

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Comment Preferences

  •  great idea (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mannie, afisher

    It has as much chance of being adopted and of affecting real change as the longevity of a fart in a windstorm.

  •  OrWebb - I am confused (0+ / 0-)

    Would HR 20 provide the $25 tax credit, and other public financing benefits, as a counter balance to corporate financing of independent expenditures allowed by CU? Or will it attempt to "undo Citizens United"?

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 03:14:38 PM PST

    •  More Money, less problems? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VClib

      Hi VClib,

      sorry for the delay in the response.  The bill would not repeal citizens united, which has been attempted by earlier statute to no avail.  

      I think it is a sort of pragmatic attempt to target the effects of the current system, which admittedly is not ideal, but I wonder if we can get a Constitutional Amendment, or even a really strong bill into effect without getting some actual influence back for Main Street.

      •  Thanks, that's what I thought (0+ / 0-)

        I agree, a constitutional amendment would be needed to change CU.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 09:09:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not Sure Amendment is the only path (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          VClib

          I'm not sure that you cannot just overturn CU in a bill, but what I meant to say was that no bill has been successfully enacted to do so.  

          I am in full support of Sen. Sanders and others who are steadily working on an amendment, but in the mean time, we need to find ways to get some more representatives of Main Street into office.  I see this bill as an attempt at a stop gap of sorts.

          •  OrW - I don't think CU can be overturned (0+ / 0-)

            through legislation. At the core is Buckley v Valeo which has been the law for nearly 40 years. Citizens United follows Buckley. There is no way to overturn that entire tree of rulings from the SCOTUS with legislation.

            "let's talk about that"

            by VClib on Thu Feb 13, 2014 at 08:46:37 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for a thoughtful and proactive diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OldDragon

    Hope to read more of your thoughts around here. It's going to take some creative solutions to get out from under Citizens United and the stranglehold of corporate campaign dollars.

    Welcome from the DK Partners & Mentors Team. If you have any questions about how to participate here, you can learn more at the Knowledge Base or from the New Diarists Resources Diaries. Diaries labeled "Open Thread" are also great places to ask. We look forward to your contributions.

    We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for,
    not just what we’re against.
    ---> President Obama, 2014 SOTU speech

    by smileycreek on Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 04:06:55 PM PST

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