Friday, January 22, 2010

A Regrettable Ruling

Thirteen years ago, I received a letter from my natural father, Bob Jaycox, in which he railed against “legal fiction of the corporation,” observing that they have “never breathed a breath of air, never watched a sunset, never held a child,” but they “feed at the trough of government largesse, wield political power on a measure which should never exist in this nation, and cast off those who live and breath at their own whim and convenience.”

Today, in a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that corporations should be able to spend whatever they want to spend in political campaigns, arguing that corporations had the same rights as individuals and that this spending was protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. But, wait a minute… First of all, are corporations really individuals? The Supreme Court has held as much for many years so let’s put that aside for a moment. But, another question: I, as an individual, am limited as to how much I can spend on a political campaign. I have a cap on my contribution to a candidate or party I support. Now, corporations have no limitations whatsoever, but my ability to contribute to a candidate or party remains limited. What’s up with that?

Is a corporation now more of a “person” than I am? Or than you are? Your political contributions are strictly limited under current law and yet Aetna or Philip Morris or Pfizer can now donate whatever they want. No limits. None. What in Sam Hill’s name is going on?

My friends on the right (and I do have some) will likely not approve of what I’m about to suggest but I think the time has come for serious reform of campaign finance, and the reform I want is public financing. This would stop the millionaires from having an unfair leg up on the rest of us and level the playing field. We would (collectively – uh-oh, he must be a Socialist!) finance campaigns for all federal elected offices; states could decide what they want to do for statewide elections on their own. But it seems to me it wouldn’t be that hard to create a legitimacy test for prospective federal candidates that entitle them to public financing. Once they satisfy that test they could only receive public financing and we would have a level playing field in terms of ad buys and the like. Each candidate would have to prove him or herself in the arena, through the cleverness of the ads the public finances allow them to buy to their personal pressing-of-the-flesh to their performance at debates. Let the best woman or man win.

Corporations are NOT individuals. As my late father said, they’ve “never breathed a breath of air, never watched a sunset, never held a child.” Individuals do all of those things. We breathe, we notice the sunset (and the sunrise), we hold children, even if we don’t have them ourselves – we hold our nieces and nephews or the children of friends, or, our own younger siblings. We are individuals. We breathe, we see, we touch, we taste, we feel. Corporations don’t cry or hurt or laugh. Their stocks rise or fall and individuals involved with them might cry or hurt or laugh, but corporations themselves demonstrably do not. That’s why they can lay off 10,000 workers at a time without blinking an eye.

Let me be clear. I am not anti-corporation. In fact, I, along with my wife, own a corporation. It’s called Russell Creative, Inc., and we formed it because it was a good tax move. But Russell Creative, Inc. is not and never will be an individual. It is a tax haven. It is a way for us to pay for medical expenses and research expenses and other business related necessities on a pre-tax basis. But, I wouldn’t ever in a million years argue that Russell Creative, Inc. should be thought of as an individual. It is demonstrably NOT an individual. It is a VERY small company run by my wife and me. It exists because given the current tax laws it makes sense for it to exist. Why should it be able to spend more money in support of a candidate than I am able to? This makes no sense.

This ruling will surely be overturned eventually, but meanwhile, I urge you to be in touch with your Representatives and Senators and push them to enact new legislation to try to work around this abominable ruling the Supreme Court. Our lives do, in fact, depend upon it.