Corporations are people too, so they should vote [Commentary]


Indulge, if you will, a bit of political whimsy on my part.

Presume a world where living and breathing people are on the same footing as certain legal entities established to facilitate business and financial dealings. Strictly speaking, we do not live in such a world, but a 2010 decision by the nation's highest court brought us a step closer to such a bizarre reality.

Written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, with whom I share no blood relation that I know of, the decision is the one often simplified by the odd assertion "corporations are people."

On a certain level, it's an unfair simplification. The decision in the case, known as Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission, is in excess of 17,000 words, enough to fill more than five pages of this newspaper. Though I disagree with it, I have to say reducing it to three words doesn't do it justice.

Strangely, however, the logic put forth by the honorable Kennedy (I have to say, I kind of like the sound of that) equates corporations with what are referred to in the law, and in the decision, as "natural persons" to such a degree that it seems it would be difficult to draw a line dividing the legal rights of paper or corporate people and people of flesh and blood.

Indeed, the decision notes that corporations are endowed with potential immortality, whereas natural people are not. It also presumes corporations to be more capable of understanding topics of civic interest than individual mortal people. As Justice Kennedy puts it: "On certain topics corporations may possess valuable expertise, leaving them the best equipped to point out errors or fallacies in speech of all sorts, including the speech of candidates and elected officials."

The long and short of the decision was that it allows corporations to make monetary contributions to political campaigns, be they to individuals running for specific office or organizations promoting particular viewpoints.

Though it's not presumed in the decision, in reading through it seems to me the next logical step is to afford voting rights to corporations. If they are, after all, entitled to the same First Amendment rights as living, breathing people, corporation people presumably are entitled the other political rights constitutionally guaranteed to "We, the People."

Corporations were devised many decades ago to serve as stand-ins for human beings in certain business endeavors where it is in the public and private interest to allow for a continuity of ownership, despite the mortal limitations of human owners (we die, corporations don't). A corporation owned by a group of people, or an individual, can go on indefinitely, so long as the pool of owners is replenished and the corporation remains financially viable.

The next frontier in securing the constitutional rights of human beings for corporate beings is clear, at least in my mind: Corporations should be allowed to vote. If a corporation can participate fully in the civic debate over public policy, why should it be stopped from having a say in that debate?

Anyone, or any organization, with the wherewithal to pay for the paperwork needed to establish a few dozen, or even a few thousand, corporations, really ought to be allowed to register those corporations to vote as they see fit. How will the corporations vote? Well, presumably, they'll vote using the same clinical logic Justice Kennedy sees when he presumes them "equipped to point out errors and fallacies in speech of all sorts."

Then again, maybe they'll just vote in what they presume to be their own best interest, which would be exactly how their creator commands they vote. After all, even as humans with free will have the option of defying their creator, corporations face certain permanent dormancy, or even unincorporation, if they defy their creators.

So there you have it. The easy way to win an election the next time around is to stop foolishly investing in advertising efforts, meet and greet events and door-to-door flesh pressings. The candidate who has the most friends capable of setting up corporations and registering those corporations to vote has the best chance of winning.

Plus, you can bet in such a world, corporations would be much better citizens. We humans in the U.S. vote at appallingly low rates, but it's a fair bet that just about 100 percent corporations that end up being registered to vote will.

Feel like giving it a try? The deadline to register to vote is 9 p.m. Oct. 14, and there are plenty of businesses on the Internet eager to help you set up a corporation or two of your own.

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