Why Corporate Personhood is Bad for Business

By: Dr. Sally Goerner, Director
The Integral Science Institute

As we celebrate the second anniversary of the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision giving corporations the right to buy our elections, it is important to remember that this ruling is just as disastrous for business and the economy as it was for democracy. Understanding how money in politics harms business can help bridge some of our left-right divide and create a truly All-American, purple-state movement.

The root problem is not profit or corporations per se, its size and influence. In America, big money buys big favors ? and, big favors tilt the economic playing-field toward the already large and wealthy. If you’re not big and rich enough to buy special favors, you lose.

Big banks get bailed out, but small businesses go belly up. Wall Street criminals get a pass for crashing the economy – and Tim Geitner and Larry Summers get big jobs – but homeowners get foreclosure. Cash-strapped small businesses can’t get a loan, but in 2006 the federal government gave $92 billion in corporate welfare to the likes of GE, IBM, Dow Chemical and Boeing. Meanwhile, giant companies like GE pay no taxes and often get tax rebates, while workers, small businesses and the middle class pay a higher percentage than the rich. All of these things are brought to us by high paid lobbyists, campaign donations and other forms of legal corruption.

This pay-to-play system either ignores or squashes the small, medium and even fairly large enterprises (SMEs) that create 80% of US jobs. NAFTA, for example, was designed to enrich a few super-wealthy financiers and sold as a “job creator,” but it mainly created the “giant sucking sound” Ross Perot predicted, as factories closed and jobs were outsourced to cheap labor countries around the world. North Carolina’s textile industry evaporated in less than a decade ? along with 48,000 other factories nationwide and 13 million jobs.

The resulting economic pain trickles-down to every level. States, counties and towns across the country are bankrupt because the system of big money buying federal-level favors has eviscerated the grassroots real economy everywhere. Deficits then force these jurisdictions to slash the very systems that the real economy needs most: schools, infrastructure, healthcare and police.

The result is totally un-American. Instead of a free enterprise system, big money has turned America into what Citibank calls a “plutonomy,” government and economy run by and for a few exceedingly wealthy plutocrats. In a plutonomy, it is not Big Government or Big Business per se, but the combination of the two that spells disaster for the rest of us.

Giving corporations the same “free speech” rights as human citizens is just another way for America’s oligarchs to game the system, in this case, using the very Bill of Rights meant to protect “We the REAL People” from abusive power.

Many inside the corporate community are also appalled, but believe their hands are tied. Corporations are required by law to maximize profits for their owners, and one of the best ways to do this is to donate large amounts to politicians as a cheap way to buy economic favors. Wall Street, Big Banks, Big Oil, Big Pharma and others line up at the trough because a few million in campaign donations can result in billions in subsidies, tax breaks, lucrative contracts, special interest laws, and bailouts when needed.

So, while many people assume Citizens United was a “pro-business” outcome, the vast majority of independent business owners disagree. According to an independent national survey, 67% of small business owners believe the ruling hurts small companies, and 88% hold a negative view of money in politics. In fact, only 9% of small business leaders thought the verdict positive.

In short, while most liberal outrage focuses on how Citizens United undermines democracy by opening the floodgates of big-corporate money buying our elections, if you want to create a truly all-American, purple state movement, you also need to point out that the same pay-to-play process has been destroying our economy through the purchase of economic favors for decades as well.

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