Eureka (Calif.) Times-Standard, March 27, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: On June 6, the voters of Eureka, California will vote on Measure T, titled "Ordinance to Protect Our Rights to Fair Elections and Local Democracy." The ordinance would prohibit non- local corporations from making campaign contributions to local elections in Eureka. The opposition has wrapped itself in the First Amendment arguing that corporate money is a form of "free speech." Advocates for measure T reply that the First Amendment was intended to protect living, breathing humans, not pieces of paper called corporations. The fight is on.]

By Nicole Spencer

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." -- Thomas Jefferson.

In the last Voices issue [in the Eureka Times-Standard newspaper], Robert Zigler authored an opinion piece attacking Measure T. Among his many factually challenged criticisms of our campaign, Zigler cites Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County as his source of understanding for Measure T. He quotes the Democracy Unlimited website at length, but it appears that he didn't even go to the website of the organization actually sponsoring the measure: the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights (HCCR) --

Democracy Unlimited is one of the organizations endorsing Measure T, but Zigler conveniently fails to mention the other people and organizations backing the measure, including: the Humboldt Democratic Party, the Humboldt Green Party, the Central Labor Council, a number of other local labor unions, over a dozen current and former elected officials including Humboldt District Attorney Paul Gallegos, a host of other local organizations and over 250 individuals (including a number of local and national attorneys). This diverse coalition is standing together to support Measure T because we support community rights, local control and individual rights over the notion that corporations should be treated the same as human beings.

And we stand in good company. From Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith to Abraham Lincoln and the late Chief Justice Rehnquist, there have been many patriotic Americans who have pointed out the obvious truth: a corporation is not a person. While there is nothing wrong with doing business and nothing inherently wrong with a corporation, that does not mean that corporate personhood is necessary, inevitable, democratic or in keeping with American values.

Measure T is not anti-corporate, it is pro-local control. Local corporations would still be allowed to contribute to elections. Measure T would in no way limit the rights of newspapers, corporate controlled or otherwise, to endorse or oppose candidates or ballot measures, nor would it restrict any person from contributing to campaigns.

The statement that Measure T restricts freedom of speech is based on the false assumptions that corporations are human beings and that money is speech. Corporate personhood isn't necessary for corporations to exist. Corporations existed in this country for over 100 years before they were dubbed "people" by the courts.

In the United States, corporations were originally mandated to serve the public good. However, during the late 1800s (known as the "Robber Baron" era in history textbooks), railroad corporations amassed tremendous wealth that would be used to litigate their way to becoming "people." Corporate lawyers brought lawsuit after lawsuit, all the way up to the Supreme Court, claiming that the clauses guaranteeing equal protection and due process in the 14th Amendment had been meant for them. Between 1890 and 1910, there were 307 cases brought before the court under the 14th Amendment. 288 of these cases were brought by corporations and only 19 by African Americans (the people for whom the amendment's protections had been intended).

Judges gave way to the pressure in 1886 with Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. This case substantially changed the democracy our founding fathers intended and breathed life and "personhood" into an artificial entity that had always been beholden to the people before that time.

This is not ancient history. Today the power of corporate personhood outweighs labor, environmental and small-business protections. When a corporation successfully argues that its personhood "rights" are violated, a law attempting to protect people from potential harm is overturned.

In the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations would be allowed to move into the political arena when it decided that "money equals speech." This was an entirely new idea. Before this decision, all corporations had been explicitly denied participation in the political process. In Wisconsin it was a felony until 1953 for a corporation to contribute any "thing of value" to any political campaign.

Most cases granting corporations personhood status have been 5-4 decisions. In other words, even the courts have been divided. In First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1977) Justices White, Brennan and Marshall dissented on the court's decision to overturn state laws limiting corporate expenditures on ballot initiatives. They wrote: "(T)he special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may... dominate not only our economy but the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process.... The state need not allow its own creation to consume it." Justice Rehnquist, a staunch conservative, also dissented: "The blessings of perpetual life and limited liability... so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere."

Measure T is not intended to get rid of corporate personhood. Measure T ensures local control by getting rid of money from outside entities in local elections -- be those entities corporations, unions or nonprofits. The only connection to corporate personhood is that the law refuses to sacrifice our community's right to define our elections to the idea that a corporation's personhood status comes before the rights of the people who live here.

During the DA recall campaign we all heard it over and over again: "This ought to be illegal." Don't let corporate personhood apologists tell you that we don't have the right to define our community for ourselves. On June 6, stand up for your rights and vote yes on Measure T!

"History honors none above those who, in the past, have set themselves against unjust laws.... The Republic of the United States is founded upon defiance of unjust law.... Manifestly unjust decisions of courts must be defied." -- Samuel Gompers.