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April 26th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

Are corporations people, too?

By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello, CNN

(CNN) – Can you imagine a world in which your next congressman is “sponsored” by Pepsi? Or Walmart? Or any corporation for that matter? Well, it may not be so far-fetched.

Enter the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in January that the “prohibition of corporate independent (political) expenditures is an outright ban on free speech.” That ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, effectively opened the flood gates to allow, for example, Pepsi or Walmart, or any company to pay for advertising supporting or opposing a political candidate – so long as it’s not done in league with a candidate. Labor unions, just like corporations, are also now free to pay for political advertising.

The first political ad bought and paid for by a corporation has appeared in several small newspapers in east Texas. KDR Development Inc., a real estate company, took out an ad opposing Chuck Hopson, a Republican running for reelection to the Texas legislature. Hobson told CNN, “a friend of mine called and said, 'Chuck, there’s a corporate ad against you in the paper.' And I said, 'yea, who is it?'”

Larry Durrett is the president of KDR. He ran unsuccessfully against Hopson in a previous election. (We called several times asking Durrett for a comment, but he did not return any of our phone calls.) The KDR ad reads, “Vote for a Real Republican,” and it goes on to criticize Hopson for “(supporting) the Democratic platform and agenda.”

KDR isn’t exactly a Fortune 500 company, but Durrett wonders: “What if it’s a big company that America loves or what if it’s a company that American hates?”

Nonsense, says Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “No corporation is going to run an ad ... using the magic words, 'vote for', 'vote against', and at the bottom say, 'paid for by CNN.' I’m just going to guarantee you that’s not going to happen.” His reasoning is that entering the political fray so explicitly could alienate some of a company’s customers.

David Bossie of Citizen United, which successfully brought the case to the Supreme Court, says the court’s ruling means that everybody wins. “Whether they’re liberal or conservative…everyone is able to participate fully and completely in the process. And that’s a wonderful thing for democracy. It’s a wonderful thing for your average person.”

Some in Congress don’t think the ruling is all that wonderful.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) wants a “constitutional amendment so that we the people can take back our elections and our democracy.”

Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Republican Rep. Mike Castle want Congress to pass a bill that curbs the impact of the court’s ruling. They want to limit political donations of foreign-owned companies, require American companies to inform their shareholders about the political spending and require CEO’s to appear in political advertising.

Despite all the hoopla, so far only KDR has chosen to enter the political fray. And their ad didn’t’ work. Chuck Hopson won the Republican primary with 61% of the vote.

Filed under: Politics
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Ryan

    Corporations care more about making money than the well being of the people – they do not deserve an equal voice in government and law making compared to average citizens.
    Free speech may be extended to companies, but giving money to political campaigns to serve your own interests is not the same as free speech. The supreme court really made a crappy decision here.
    How is an average citizen supposed to be heard over a companies' billion dollar ad campaign?

    May 6, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  2. Albert Tucson

    The Constitution was created when there was no such thing as the corporate entities that exist today. It is my belief that the founding fathers meant SPEECH as in a human being expressing his or her views. Now I'm sure legal arguments can be(and have been) made to include corporations and many other types of similar entities but that's NOT the way it should be. If a person in a corporation can say anything on behalf of that corporation, there's no need to give said corporation the same right.

    May 6, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  3. Shawn

    I guess if you are pro-life you gotta be for life of, what's next right wing folks? (taking some right wing rhetoric for my own use) How about seeing the Constitution as a living breathing document?

    May 5, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  4. fred

    Corporations should be out-lawed as the trans-generational pyramid schemes that they are, and they are about as personable as a cobra.
    We can however, arrest and jail them cheaply...Padlock!

    May 5, 2010 at 12:08 am |
  5. al mackenzie

    When a corporation can take the oath of citizenship then it can have the right to donate to political parties. However, rights come with responsibilities. Corporations dont have pride of citizenship. They dont join the military. They dont volunteer at the homeless shelter. All it holds dear is money. To create shareholder wealth. They are not working for the good of the people or the country. It is LAUGHABLE and DESPICABLE that they now have the ability to openly donate to politicians. I say....You take corporate money...You LOSE my vote.

    April 27, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  6. mike sey

    The day a corporation can be arrested, tried in criminal court, and jailed, it will become a person.

    As it is now corporations seem to have the best of all worlds; Its crimes have to be tied to specific individuals and executives, who in turn have an uncanny ability to plead ignorance, and have the corporation pay their legal bills.

    April 27, 2010 at 6:55 am |
  7. Richard Winger

    The First Amendment applies to all entities that speak, not just people. It says, "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech." That is why political parties, churches, non-profit groups, newspapers, all enjoy First Amendment free speech protection. Doesn't anyone read the Constitution any longer?

    If "District Nine", the movie, were fact, and intelligent aliens were living on earth, the First Amendment would protect the aliens also. If animals could talk, as in the movie series "Planet of the Apes", the First Amendment would apply to gorillas and chimpanzees.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  8. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    Are you kidding the people are the victims of big oil these people are cut throat bandits .

    April 26, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  9. Robert

    If corporations are people, then maybe they can take my kids to soccer practice this week.

    April 26, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  10. James

    No,NO, no

    I don't have the same amount of money, nor can I generate the amount of money, nor do I know of an individual that can. Even the wealthy can't compete with the support a corporation could contriute to a campain.

    April 26, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  11. john doe

    Until we get over the fact that life, people, love, and careing, is more important than the all mighty dollar, there is really nothing we can do!!! Corp's are made up of people but if a congressman needs money to help make a good judgement call then GOD help us all, this is why we are where we are!!! USA is the way!!!

    April 26, 2010 at 8:37 am |