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Abolish Corporate Personhood to Save Democracy

February 21, 2010

By David Cobb

Yet again the US Supreme Court has sided with the ruling elite against the interests of the American people. On Jan. 21 in Citizens United vs. FEC they overturned the flimsy federal campaign finance reform laws afforded by the McCain-Feingold law. Corporations can now to spend unlimited money in buying our elections. The Court has literally legalized corporate bribery of our elected officials.

So if you were already disgusted by the fact that over $5 billion dollars was spent in the 2008 election, watch out. Because the floodgates are now wide open!

There will be calls to fight back at the legislative level. We need publicly financed elections, we need laws requiring a majority of shareholders to approve corporate political contributions. Those laws would be an immediate improvement, and I support those efforts.

But even if every one of those laws passed, it would not be enough. Because once again, the Court relied on the illegitimate legal doctrine of “Corporate Personhood” in order to justify this profoundly undemocratic decision.

Corporate personhood is the notion that a corporation can claim to be a person, and therefore entitled to basic human rights—also described as political and civil rights—and have courts overturn laws.

As this decision clearly demonstrates, corporate personhood is not an inconsequential legal technicality. Consider this — the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation was a “legal person” with 14th Amendment protections before they granted full personhood to African-Americans, immigrants, natives, and women.

And literally hundreds of laws — perhaps thousands — of local, state and federal laws that attempt to protect our environment, our elections, our safety and health, our right to organize have been overturned as a result of this erroneous doctrine.

The world is being destroyed, the federal government is engaged in unending war, and we live in an unjust, unsustainable and undemocratic country.

It’s time to take ourselves seriously — both about what is at stake and what it will require to actually assume and democratically exercise real power. We must address the reality that the federal courts have made real democracy impossible.

It’s time to follow the lead of the American Revolutionaries, the abolitionists, the suffragists, the trade unionists, and the Civil Rights activists and to build a broad-based, multi-partisan democracy movement in the United States.

It’s time to amend the US Constitution to make it clear that only human beings can claim to be “persons” with constitutional rights.

A broad new coalition of grassroots groups and national organizations — representing diverse public interest, community, and local businesses — are making a bold call to overrule the Supreme Court Citizens United and to amend the Constitution to restore the power of people over corporations beyond election law.

We are under no illusion that this approach will “fix” the legal system, the political system, the economic system.

But we believe it is time we confront the entire current Constitutional framework. It’s time to make the promise of democracy a reality.

Are you with us?

If so, go to the website to join the growing national movement to take our country back.

David Cobb, a lawyer, was the Green Party candidate for President in 2004, and is a member of Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, Calif. Email


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