Part 1: The Origins of Corporate Personhood
It all started with a Supreme Court decision back in 1886 – Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad.
A great resource on the history of how corporate personhood came into being is Thom Hartmann’s Unequal Protection – The rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights. The book contains both the history of this decision and of corporate personhood, along with many examples of the impact of corporate personhood on our society.
Watch a video overview
The rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights, gives a brief overview of how a non-decision by the Supreme Court eventually lead to corporate personhood.
Read the history
You have two choices here:
- There is a brief excerpt from Unequal Protection on Thom Hartmann’s website . He also has a great deal of related historic and other material on this page as well.
- He has allowed the whole chapter on the history of how corporate personhood was established to be published on TruthOut.org, with lots of historical detail.
Here is my very brief summary:
The Supreme Court did not decide that corporations were people in 1886. It was the court clerk slipped it into the headnote. After the decision was published, judges began making applying what was written in the headnote to make their own decisions (which means they did not read the actual decision itself). Their use of the headnote established the precedent for saying that corporations are people. This has given corporations access to the rights guaranteed to PEOPLE in the Constitution.
Part 2: The 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. FEC decision
The most recent decision upholding this idea was the Supreme Court 2010 Citizens United v. FEC case.
In this decision, the Court ruled that corporations have the constitutional right (freedom of speech) to donate an unlimited amount of money to political campaign. In the syllabus overview of the decision, the explicitly address the issue of corporate wealth (p.5 the second sentence )
This protection is inconsistent with Austin’s rationale, which is meant to prevent corporations from obtaining “ ‘an unfair advantage in the political marketplace’ ” by using “ ‘resources amassed in the economic marketplace.’ ” 494 U. S., at 659. First Amendment protections do not depend on the speaker’s “financial ability to engage in public discussion.”
So, having an unfair advantage over real people didn’t matter. Upholding the corporation’s right to free speech was most was most important. It is no different than wealthy people amassing resources. The only difference is that they are not people and we can not compete against the resources they have amassed.
Watch the video
The Democracy is for People Campaign has a great 8 minute video about this decision and its implications called The Story of Citizens United v. the FEC (in the top right corner).
Read about the case
You can read a brief overview of the case at the Democracy is for People website. You can also download the actual Supreme Court decision (quoted above) and read it for yourself (if you have a few days – it’s 186 pages long) on the same page.
This video provides a brief, yet informative explanation of this 2010 decision and how it has already dramatically impacted our electoral process.
Part 3: Corporate Power
A. There is a very thorough study packet, Corporate Power vs. Democracy by WILPF (The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom). You don’t need to agree with everything they stand for to use this 10 part study packet. Look it over and begin reading the articles that interest you most – and if you think it is useful, start a study group with folks in your community. This will give you a good understanding of the issues involved in corporate personhood.
B. Public Citizen has been one of the main organizations fighting for the rights of real people for over 40 years. They have lots of great resources related to the issues of corporate power and what is happening to our democracy.
D. The Shock Doctrine is a very important book, by Naomi Klein, about corporate power and how it is implemented around the world. Watch a brief overview of The Shock Doctrine is a link to a brief overview of the book.
Klein explains how unrestrained “free” market capitalism can only be imposed on societies during times of crisis (that they either create or capitalize upon).
This economic model is devastating to the people of these societies. This devastation is an “acceptable” (to “free” market proponents) consequence as long as the resources of societies are turned over to large corporate interests (the 1%).
This model can only be imposed because the people of these societies would never vote for such policies if they were given a chance.
Watch a longer documentary of the Shock Doctrine (1:18 minutes) made from the book that presents the ideas of the book along with video of the examples of where the free market has been imposed on societies.
And finally, you can read the book.
That should get you started!