Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two stories came down the wire this weekend regarding the status of corporations under post-Citizens United law.

The first, just to keep you updated, comes from the “Big Sky Country,” where Montana’s State Supreme Court will hear a case on Wednesday to determine if its century-old ban on corporate campaign spending is suddenly unconstitutional under recent SCOTUS rulings. The conservative American Tradition Partnership challenged that Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act of 1912 violated the First Amendment by infringing on corporate free speech. The law puts a $160 cap on state candidate donations and bans corporations from directly donating to candidates (although they can still donate through political-action committees).

From the other side of the issue, The Daily Camera Online (Boulder, CO) has a piece about the Colorado ballot initiative that intends to show support for a constitutional amendment stripping corporations of their legal status as persons. But if such an amendment were to pass, it might have unintentional consequences.

“Beyond limiting corporations' ability to spend money in campaigns, stripping corporations of all constitutional rights would mean that corporations -- including nonprofits, small businesses and labor unions -- would also no longer be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment or from having their private property taken by the government without just compensation under the Fifth Amendment.”

Professor John Holcomb from University of Denver’s College of Business also notes, “treating corporations as people is what allows the companies to be held criminally liable for the impacts they have.”

Legally categorizing corporations as persons is a means to an end – it is a way for both the corporation and the government to have set boundaries where each is held accountable. When the balance of power has been interrupted, the solution is to recalibrate those boundaries, not dissolve them altogether.

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