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If corporations are people, maybe they should start acting a little more patriotic

Republican PartyCEO PayMitt RomneyFederal Election Commission

Despite what the Supreme Court and Mitt Romney say, corporations aren't people. (I'll believe they are when Georgia and Texas start executing them.)

The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations should be treated no differently than people who have First Amendment rights to spend money on politics. That was the majority's view in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission -- a case that's opened the floodgates to big money in the upcoming election.

Mr. Romney agrees corporations are people and doesn't believe their political spending should be limited. He and most of his fellow Republicans also think corporations need lower taxes and fewer regulations in order to create jobs in America.

And they argue that it's OK for big American corporations to shelter their profits abroad to avoid paying American taxes. They should be given a tax amnesty to bring their money back to America without penalty in order to create jobs here.

These positions are absurd on their face. By flooding our democracy with money that rightfully belongs to their shareholders, big American corporations violate their shareholders' First Amendment rights. Their shareholders aren't consulted about if and how their money ought to be spent on politics.

Corporations simultaneously suppress the First Amendment rights of the rest of us. Given how much money they're throwing around, the voices of most real citizens who don't have that kind of money can't be heard.

And corporations indirectly give non-Americans (that is, all their foreign owners, investors and executives) a say in how Americans are governed. Pardon me for being old-fashioned, but I didn't think foreign money was supposed to be funneled into American elections.

Mr. Romney's and most other Republicans' belief that big corporations need lower taxes, less regulation, and a tax amnesty in order to create American jobs is equally baffling. American corporations are now sitting on $2 trillion of cash and enjoying near-record profits.

In fact, the ratio of their profits to the wages they pay out is now higher than it's been since before the Great Depression. And a larger and larger portion of those profits are going to their top executives. (CEO pay was 40 times that of the typical worker in the 1980s; it's now upwards of 300 times that of the typical worker.)

But if the Supreme Court and most Republicans nonetheless insist big American corporations are people that deserve to be treated as American citizens, and be given tax breaks and special advantages to create jobs here, maybe we should expect those corporations to show some loyalty to this country.

Why not have big American corporations take a pledge of allegiance to the United States?

It wouldn't be a legal requirement. It would be voluntary. Corporations that take the pledge would be able to say in their advertisements, "We pledge allegiance to the United States."

American consumers would be free to boycott those that don't take the pledge.

Here's what a Corporate Pledge of Allegiance might look like:

The Corporate Pledge of Allegiance to the United States

The (fill in blank) corporation pledges allegiance to the United States of America. To that end:

We pledge to create more jobs in the United States than we create outside the United States, either directly or in our foreign subsidiaries and subcontractors.

We further pledge that no more than 20 percent of our total labor costs will be outsourced abroad.

If we have to lay off American workers at a time when we're profitable, we will give those workers severance payments equal to their weekly wage times the number of months they've worked for us.

We pledge to keep a lid on executive pay so no executive is paid more than 50 times the median pay of American workers. We define "pay" to include salary, bonuses, health benefits, pension benefits, deferred salary, stock options and every other form of compensation.

We pledge to pay at least 30 percent of money earned in the United States in taxes to the United States. We won't shift our money to offshore tax havens and won't use accounting gimmicks to fake how much we earn.

We pledge not to use our money to influence elections.

This isn't too much to ask, is it?

Again, it wouldn't be a legal requirement; corporations are free to pledge or not to pledge. And consumers are free to boycott those that don't make the pledge, or disregard it.

But at least we'll know which corporations that enjoy the benefits of American citizenship act like American citizens. That's important this coming election year. It may even be important to our Christmas shopping.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of "Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future." His blog is www.robertreich.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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