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Pamela Martin: On being ‘people,’ corporations can’t have it both ways

March 24. 2014 5:17PM

Your Sunday, March 23, editorial “Campaign Against Speech Making Inroads in NH” makes it sound like the citizens who submitted petition warrant articles to overturn Citizens United are mindless zombies who are simply doing the bidding of Washington activists. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The voters who collected signatures for town warrants are genuine, sincere citizens worried about the declining state of democracy in this country and want to make sure that actual human people can get their voices heard and respected.

It seems to me corporations want it both ways. When they want to influence elections by pouring unlimited amounts of money into a campaign, they’re people and declare that money is speech. But when they do harm to the environment and cause human suffering, they’re corporations so they don’t have to personally take responsibility for their actions.

I understand the concept of corporate limited liability. Without limited liability, no one in their right mind would start a business for fear of being sued out of business every time someone burned their lip on hot coffee. However, real people don’t have limited liability. If I poured hundreds of gallons of oil into a river or gave people a drug that killed them, I would go to jail because I’m a person. If a corporation does it, it pays back a small portion of its profits. Corporations shouldn’t get to have it both ways. Corporations are not people. Real people die when they get old and go to jail when they break the law.

The U.S. Constitution says “We the people.” It says nothing about corporations. The Constitution’s framers were very clear that economic interests did not have the same rights as citizens. The Revolutionary War was fought against unfair and excessive economic mistreatment by Great Britain. But over the years, the balance of power between individuals and corporations has swung away from average citizens to the richest and most powerful institutions. While people have many varied goals, corporations only have one goal, and that is maximum profits for the stockholders.

Many of these multinational corporations have found ways to keep their profits offshore so that in some cases they pay very few or no taxes at all. And that includes Boeing, GE and Verizon, which have paid no federal income taxes for the last five years, despite profits in the billions. I can’t imagine any scenario in which I would be allowed to pay no federal taxes on earned income. That’s because I am a person.

All positive change starts at the bottom. Civil rights and women’s voting rights began at the grass roots level and resulted in constitutional amendments. Without a constitutional amendment, slavery would still be legal in America. Now, we the people want to send a message to the federal government that Citizens United is wrong and must be overturned.

Pamela Martin is a retired family counselor in Plymouth.

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