Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Either Or

The Slactivist blog has a really thought-provoking post up right now called 501(c)(3) free speech that I highly recommend. It approaches the corporate personhood issue, particularly as it relates to the recent Citizens United court case, from the point of view of someone who worked for non-profits for many years. In essence, the post argues that much like non-profits, corporations should have to choose either free speech or tax benefits.

As the law currently stands, certain organizations can opt to forgo the ability to influence elections in exchange for favorable tax status while other organizations can freely work to influence elections but have to pay all the usual taxes. This latter type can still be non-profit, they just don't recieve the same tax priviledges, because the tax payers should not have to foot the bill for an organization attempting to influence the outcome of elections (particularly if that organization is working against the interests of some portion of the taxpayers).

Slactivist argues, and I completely agree, that corporate lobbying should work exactly the same way. If corporations want to lobby, they have to give up some of the tax benefits that they currently recieve in exchange. The taxpayers should not be supporting organizations that may be actively working against their best interests.

The post also puts into words something that I've been trying to articulate since first hearing about the court's decision:
When corporations become involved in such activities they betray not just their legal status but also all of their stakeholders -- their shareholders, employees, customers and neighbors -- all of those who have "banded together" to work corporately for a very different purported particular cause. When corporations engage in such extra-corporate activities, they are thus perpetrating a kind of fraud both against taxpayers, who never intended nor agreed to allow the tax privileges for corporations to be put to use meddling in elections, and against their own shareholders and stakeholders whose investment in the corporation was meant to support its "particular cause" as a corporation and not its extra-corporate activity as a lobbyist or kingmaker.
I have been particularly bothered by the idea used to support Citizens United that people who are part of a corporation are automatically served by the lobbying of that corporation. There are plenty of workers for major companies who would be much better off without the anti-labor policies lobbied for by the uber-bosses in the corporation. People don't become part of a corporation to promote particular viewpoints, the way they join the ACLU or the NRA, they do it because they need a paycheck or to make money. Allowing the corporation to influence elections on the premise that they do it as the voice of all the workers or investors in that corporation is disingenuous.

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