Corporations and People

Those who argue that corporations should not have the same rights as individuals (e.g due process, speech, search and seizure) are essentially arguing that individuals should lose all their rights the moment they start cooperating.  This is a seemingly odd position for the Left to take, given their commitment to group and community action.  The only way to reconcile it is to assume that the Left wants all cooperation to occur only via the state.


  1. me:

    Hm. I think this is an argument of oversimplification - people and corporations operate on very different premises, and there are obvious distinctions between the individuals forming a corporation and the corporation itself. Should corporations have a right to trial by their peers? Should corporations have a vote?

  2. andre:

    The left has no commitment to group and community action. It has a commitment to leftist action. Sometimes, when it suits their agenda, they will explain it as being a commitment to this group or that, or that they are acting in the interests of some "community". But the overriding goal is the pursuit of leftist action. If it isn't leftist action, then it must be stopped, silenced, and as necessary, its members "re-educated".

  3. a leap at the wheel:

    me: If you can apply a restriction to a right to a corporation in such a way as to not restrict the rights of the people of the corporation, I don't think there is a legal problem to it. Muzzling a corporation's right to speech muzzles the people who make up the corporations, so yes, corporations do have a de facto right to speech. Preventing a corporation from voting in public election doesn't prevent the constituent people from voting, so no, they do not get to vote.

  4. me:

    The right has no commitment to group and community action. It has a commitment to rightist action. Sometimes, when it suits their agenda, they will explain it as being a commitment to this group or that, or that they are acting in the interests of some “community”. But the overriding goal is the pursuit of rightist action. If it isn’t rightist action, then it must be stopped, silenced, and as necessary, its members “re-educated”.


  5. me:


    I don't buy that either - the individuals who are part of the corporation get to speak their mind as much as they like to. They get to spend as much of their money as they'd like to on political agendas (note that spending money on != speech, and that I *do* take the position that what and how I spend my money after taxation should be my business, but, in this day and age, unfortunately often isn't)

  6. MJ:

    If corporations are not people, they shouldn't be taxed like them either.

  7. DoctorT:

    What 'me' fails to recognize is that some corporations are created to advocate viewpoints. Groups such as the Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, and many professional societies are incorporated. Speech, funded by member dues and donations, is one of the primary products of such corporations. The federal government does not and should not have the power to censor such groups.

    I would not object to banning publicly held corporations from expressing "corporate" viewpoints and from donating money or employee time to charites or "causes." Those actions reduce shareholder profits and misrepresent some shareholders' beliefs and desires.

  8. Sam L.:

    Are unions "corporations"? If not, why not?

    I disagree with your last line--the left is OK with its own groups, and the state (mostly, if they are "in charge"); everybody else is pretty much "right out" as the Brits say.

  9. me:

    @DoctorT: there already is a legitimate form of organization for exactly that purpose - the political action committee.

    You can argue that the PAC limits and regulations should be modified (and there are plenty of good reasons to). I think that it's overly broad to instead argue that corporations should have the same rights as individuals.

    Unless, of course, we'll really level the playing field and start making it real easy for folks to book all their income in Ireland and give people direct access to the FED window ;)

  10. a leap at the wheel:

    me: "I don’t buy that either"

    As long as you aren't a judge, your inability to grasp the logic doesn't really bother me.

  11. Noumenon:

    When a corporation produces a cell phone, it does so as a cooperative enterprise, where everyone's small contribution comes together to make a part of a whole.

    When a corporation produces political speech, that's not true at all. Its positions are 100% the executives' positions and employees have no voice. It kind of highlights, actually, that the day-to-day "cooperation" is just workers under the control of our CEO rulers.

  12. John Dewey:

    It's really silly to argue that the form of organization chosen by a group of people changes them from being people to not people. As Dr. T pointed out, it would be foolish to try and restrict the speech of Sierra Club or NRA. Those organizations exist exactly for the purpose of speaking for their members. It would be silly to restrict the speech of unions. UAW and Trial Lawyers Association exist just exactly to give a voice to their members. So how is WalMart or Whole Foods or the local beverage distributor here in Dallas any different? When they speak, those corporations represent the group of stockholders who own them - just as the Trial Lawyers Association represents the lawyers who pay membership.

  13. John Dewey:

    Noumenon, a corporation is not a group of workers. It is a group of shareholders. If the executives hired by those shareholders do not represent the views of the majority of shareholders, the executives can be fired or disciplined by the shareholders. That doesn't happen often because executives are careful not to incur the displeasure of shareholders. But it does happen.

  14. me:

    @leap - I don't see much logic: if people organize into a corporation, they retain every right they have as individuals. However, the corporation as a legal entity is regulated through a different set of laws. Your argument seems to be that an organization of individuals ought to automatically have the same rights as the individuals comprising it, because otherwise the rights of the individuals would be restricted.

    My counter is that the individual rights of the people involved continue to exist and aren't touched and that the rights transfer you imagine doesn't mesh with out legal reality that recognizes corporations as different from individuals quite intentionally.

    The pragmatical argument that some corporations have a primary purpose in promoting agendas (speech) and that therefore all corporations should have all individual rights makes even less sense, given that there are forms of organization for precisely that purpose and the discussion is focused on one specific right.

  15. John Dewey:


    The Supreme Court has made it very clear that speech from organizations (groups of people) is protected - regardless of whether the organization is a union (UAW), an incorporated environmental lobby (Sierra Club), a non-profit social group (Lions Club), or a profit-seeking corporation (Whole Foods). The purpose of the organization of people is irrelevant. I agree with the Supreme Court's decision. You apparently do not. Apparently you believe that an organized group of people lose the right to speak with a common voice. I'm pleased that your view is not the law of this nation.

  16. a leap at the wheel:

    me: I wasn't making a normative statement. I was, as John Dewey points out, explaining the SC's reasoning as well as I understand it. Your counter was presented and found lacking.

  17. Jerryskids:

    I think Doctor T nailed it - some corporations should be protected by the First Amendment and some should not. Do you seriously think anybody on the Left thinks the New York Times or the Sierra Club or the UAW should not be afforded First Amendment rights or that Fox News or the NRA or Walmart should? See the difference? As long as you understand that the right to free speech only means the right to say the right things, the Left does in fact support corporate speech.

  18. Noumenon:

    John Dewey -- thank you, that was a very clarifying distinction. It feels weird to think that I'm not really part of the corporation I work for at all -- I just contract my labor with it.

  19. John Dewey:

    noumenon: "It feels weird to think that I’m not really part of the corporation I work for at all — I just contract my labor with it."

    Not sure why that would feel weird to you. It is exactly the relationship all employees have with employers. Human resources departments may try to deceive employees into believing otherwise. Only the naive will believe them.

    Consider what would happen if someone wins a massive claim against the corporation - one larger than the value of the whole corporation. The corporation may be forced to liquidate, and shareholders lose all their money. But the employees' 401K funds are completely safe (assuming the employees were not dumb enough to invest 401K funds in company stock.)

  20. John Dewey:

    FYI, the protection of free speech for corporations was not established in Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission. In 1978, the Supreme Court in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti established that right:

    “The identity of the speaker is not decisive in determiningwhether speech is protected. Corporations and otherassociations, like individuals, contribute to the ‘discussion, debate, and the dissemination of information and ideas’ that the First Amendment seeks to foster”

    Citizens United just reaffirmed the decision in Belotti.

  21. Jerryskids:

    Noumenon, a corporation is not a group of workers. It is a group of shareholders.
    It is exactly the relationship all employees have with employers.

    I and my two brothers are partners in an LLC, it's just the three of us working together. All three of us are considered self-employed. According to the census bureau, about 3/4 of all business firms have no payroll. There are only about 5,000 publicly traded companies in the US.

    Which means corporations are not necessarily - or even predominately - a group of shareholders at all.

  22. John Dewey:

    Jerryskids, you are correct that most businesses in the U.S. are tiny. But I do not believe LLC's are legally the same thing as corporations. From

    "A limited liability company (or LLC) is not a corporation, but rather a hybrid business entity. It combines the advantages of a partnership and a regular corporation."

    Most people, when using the word "corporations", are referring to the larger, shareholder-owned corporations such as ExxonMobil, Apple, and General Mills.

  23. Drainbamaged:

    Some good, thought provoking arguments here on both sides. I struggle with this issue. I like freedom and liberty for everyone - even when they band together into a corporation. Yet, a corporation can afford such a huge mega-phone. In other words, if I'm standing on a corner shouting my ideas, and a corporation arrives with their fancy van and electronic mega-speaker system - guess who gets heard?

    Corporations exist for one reason: profit - and they will always lobby for laws and regulations that make it easier to profit. Individuals exist for a variety of reasons - one of which may be profit - but not necessarily so. There is a much better chance a civic-minded citizen wants his/her voice heard for altruistic reasons.

  24. John Dewey:

    Drainbamaged: "Yet, a corporation can afford such a huge mega-phone."

    Unions can and do afford huge mega-phones.

    Billionaires can and do afford mega-phones.

    The Sierra Club can and does afford a huge mega-phone.

    The National Rifle Association can and does afford a huge mega-phone.

    The American Israel Public Affairs Committee can and does afford a huge mega-phone.

    The American Association of Retires Persons can and does afford a huge mega-phone.

    Why should a group of people who commonly own a business be any different?

    FYI, all the organizations listed above lobby for laws and regulations that improve their self-interests. Don't be so naive as to believe that very many people and organizations are spending millions of dollars for "altruistic reasons". Please don't be so naive.

  25. Drainbamaged:

    You completely failed to understand my post. The only thing I can figure is that you think I'm attacking corporations and this has made you angry to the point of blindness.

    You failed to answer my example of how my lone voice can be heard (or be effective) in the case where my lone voice is competing with ANY entity backed by big money - whether it be a union or a billionaire. As a middle-class individual, I have the right to speak out, write letters, call my congressman and attend his meetings. As a respresentative of a corporation, or union, or (insert lobby you named above), I can go to Washington D.C. with a suitcase full of money and buy our way into whatever it is that will benefit us and our interests. How am I, the individual, in any way, able to compete with that?

    I can't. Hence the strip-mining of the American individual taxpayer in the form of TARP, TALF, and Obamacare. Each of these bailouts directly transferred future wealth from individual taxpayers into the pockets of Bank of America, Citi, GM, AIG, Wall-Street brokerage firms, health insurance companies, and anybody and everybody with enough of the one key item to influence our legislators - CASH.

  26. Drainbamaged:

    Additionally, you state, "Don’t be so naive as to believe that very many people and organizations are spending millions of dollars for “altruistic reasons”. Please don’t be so naive."

    First of all, I never brought the word "organizations" into the sentence you're referring to. Once a group of people unite their money and votes to a common cause, there is almost no chance their uniting is for the betterment of every individual - almost certainly they have united for their own interests. The definition of altruism is the complete opposite of that.

    At the risk of repeating myself, what I said was that INDIVIDUALS, it seems to me, have a better chance of being interested in influencing their legislators for altruistic reasons.

    The very picture of naive, in my opinion, is someone that thinks corporations, unions, banks, car companies, Wall Street, etc., have no more influence over our lawmakers than I do - or that they have the interest of the common man as their main motive.

  27. John Dewey:

    No, drainbamaged. It is you who missed my answer to your question.

    Individuals influence elected officials by exactly the same method corporate shareholders influence elected officials: by pooling their resources.

    Each autoworker cannot hope to compete with the millions of GM shareholders who collectively fund the GM lobby. So those individual autoworkers pool their resources as members of the UAW.

    Each citizen who wishes to preserve a wilderness area from logging cannot hope to compete with the millions of International Paper shareholders who collectively fund the IP lobby. So those citizens pool their resources as members of the Sierra Club.

    Each American Jew cannot hope to compete with the billions of oil dollars available to the Arab lobby. So they pool their resources as members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

    But what's even more wonderful about today is that billions of dollars are not needed to influence Congress. The Tea Party can be just as effective as the insurance lobby by flooding Washington with tens of thousands of letters and emails.

    Yes, you're individual voice cannot have as much influence as a million voices. And it shouldn't be. The millions of shareholders speaking collectively through ExxonMobil - or the hundreds of thousands of Jews speaking collectively through American Israel Public Affairs Committee - should have more influence with Congress than should one single person.

    I am not angry to the point of blindness because I thought you were attacking corporations. I simply explained to you the way the world works today - and has always worked.

  28. Drainbamaged:

    Well, John, I appreciate you taking the time to further clarify your position for me.

    I guess you don't go in for the old, "One man, one vote" thing. :-)

    As I said in my initial post, I am torn by this whole issue. I like liberty.

    Whatever one may think of how we as individuals choose to try and influence our legislators (banding together or individually), the checkpoint should be those legislators and our courts. My personal belief is that the vast majority of lawmakers (at all levels of government) are bought and paid for. The last straw for me was Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Duke and his RIO, Willy Driscoll, where the only navy pilots to make "Ace" during the Vietnam War. Duke came home and eventually got himself elected to Congress - representing the San Diego area. Duke now sits in a federal pen - sent there for bribery and corruption. The man actually had a bribe shopping list. "You pay me this much and it'll get you this." I figured if Duke could be bought, what chance is there for the rest of them?

    I guess I'm trying to say that people banding together (insert whatever form that pleases you, here) to advance their particular interest, I find to be our right as free people, but that pure, raw, influencing power has to be checked by honest, moral, politicians and judges.

    Put another way, an example would be our legislators giving billions of dollars to corporations and banks. They didn't have the money, so they borrowed it from the FED, who borrowed it from the future by buying treasuries from the our government and printing the money to pay for those treasuries - whether in the form of paper dollars or electronic credits.

    The "check and balance" should have been our politicians not allowing this to happen. Why? Because it is completely immoral to tax people not even born yet to pay for our profligate ways of today. But they signed off on this government run Ponzi scheme to avoid the pain of a massive reset. Besides, when the CEO of one of these "too big to fails" slides a suitcase full of money your way while saying, "Look, this cash should help grease the wheels. Besides, if your vote costs you the next election, don't sweat it - I've got a big office and a lot more of a paycheck waiting for you," it must be hard to think straight. Right?

  29. John Dewey:


    First, I apologize for using the term "naive". That was neither correct nor polite.

    IMO, the best way to check the influence on power is .... to reduce the power. If Congress were unable to spend a few trillion dollars, lobbying would dry up. Make government much, much smaller and bribery is just not economical.

    As I see it, the “check and balance” should have been our voters not allowing Leviathan to happen.

  30. John Dewey:

    "I guess you don’t go in for the old, “One man, one vote” thing."

    You were referring to speech, not voting.

    We are not a democracy. We do not vote on every decision. Instead, we elect representatives to represent large number of us. It only makes sense to me that those representatives pay more attention to groups of people than to individual people. IBM is a group of people just as the UAW is a group of people and the Sierra Club is a group of people.

    The Supreme Court correctly stated that it cannot judge the worthiness of UAW or Sierra Club or IBM in deciding which is protected by the First Amendment's freedom. All are equally protected.

  31. Drainbamaged:

    John, I am naive in a lot of ways - apology not required, but thanks.

    Could you explain your last post a bit further? I'm not exactly sure what you mean, because congress is specifically empowered by the constitution to spend money. Authorizing spending bills is one of their main functions.

    "As I see it, the 'check and balance' should have been our voters not allowing Leviathan to happen."

    I don't disagree with this - but the fact is - it has happened. A huge swath of our voting citizens are completely ignorant. I do blame some of that on sheer laziness, but I think most people are good intentioned, but they are just weighted down these days with so much information. Not only that, but the kids need help with their homework, the dog needs walking, the boss wants me to come in on Saturday, the lawn needs replanting, the roof is leaking, on and on it goes. Now you want me to think about complicated political issues on top of all that?

    Well, yeah, we do. But do I blame you for just tuning out. Not really - but remember, John - I admit I am naive. On top of that, they have MASSIVE MEDIA CORPORATIONS bombarding them with things that are just not true.

    So, how do we fix it? Personally, outside of humans suddenly deciding to become moral and altruistic, I don't see a fix.

  32. Drainbamaged:

    “I guess you don’t go in for the old, “One man, one vote” thing.”

    "You were referring to speech, not voting."

    That was supposed to be a humorous aside (note the smiley face). I need to work on my humor. :-)

  33. John Dewey:

    Well, sir, I certainly do not have simple answers.

    The Tea Party is already changing the game. They've rid Congress of some moderate Republicans who were willing to spend too much. They've changed the debate about U.S. debt. I don't think they're going away.

  34. me:

    How about this as a bottom-line argument: on first principles, it makes sense to not restrict the rights of organizations founded specifically to represent political agendas to speak for the individuals they represent.

    However - is money really equivalent to free speech?

    We live in a world where bribes and rent-seeking are very, very real phenomena. The result of corporate lobbying are to a large degree inane rent-seeking licensing restrictions and a tax-code that makes no sense.

    Practical evidence that liberal corporate influence on politics is a net-negative.

  35. John Dewey:


    The U.S. Constitution prohibits restrictions on free speech. It does not specify the purpose of the persons or groups of persons who are afforded such protection. That protection applies to all.

    That you and others would try to restrict the speech of some organizations but not others is - quite frankly - frightening. I will always fight people like you - with speech as long as I can, with guns if necessary. Liberty is that precious to me.