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Commentary: It's Time To End Corporate Personhood

Jul 24, 2014

Ida Jones
Credit Fresno State

There’s been a great deal of news lately about the way money and politics interact and wind up influencing our system of governance. In today’s edition of FM89’s commentary series The Moral Is, Fresno State Business Law Professor Ida Jones says democracy works best when persons vote with their ballots and not when corporations vote with their money.


Can a corporation breathe fresh (or polluted) air, read a good book or go to the movies? Can a corporation take care of feeding, clothing and educating a child? Can it fill out a ballot for candidate? Of course not. Although we know that a corporation doesn’t have these essential qualities of human beings, the Supreme Court has decided differently.  It has decided that corporate persons should be extended the same rights as natural human beings. That completely ignores the fundamental differences between a legally created entity and a natural person.

What a corporate person can do, though, is use its influence, that is, its money, to affect which laws are adopted. Corporations can use their money to help elect legislators who are beholden to the corporations. They can use their money to lobby for laws that support corporate positions on issues that matter to the corporations, even if those positions are harmful to natural persons. On the other hand, natural persons, except for the very wealthy, don’t have the kind of money that can influence elections. Thus, natural persons are at a disadvantage to find legal solutions for issues that impact us as human beings. What an irony!

In response to those concerns, on June 23, 2014, the California legislature joined Vermont and passed Assembly Joint Resolution-1 (AJR-1), an application to the United States Congress to call a constitutional convention that would limit corporate personhood for purposes of campaign finance and political speech and that would further declare that money does not constitute speech and may be legislatively limited. This resolution is a first step toward preventing the corruption that occurs when money controls politics.

The California resolution clearly states that corporate personhood exists only for those rights that the legislature specifically grants. Democracy, the right to vote, and personhood, have as their foundation individuals, that is, natural persons, participating. Natural persons have characteristics, including mortality, that corporations don’t. The California resolution specifically rejects the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case that corporations are persons.

California’s passage of AJR-1 is a victory for democracy because it allows democracy to operate by being responsive to individual, that is, human, voters. Those voters can elect candidates that are not beholden to corporations, but instead to the people who voted for them.

Statewide, less than 26% of voters even vote in primary or midyear elections. That’s in part because many say their vote doesn’t matter because those with the deepest pockets, those with the most money, can influence both who is elected and whose interests new laws support. Under the current system, corporate money discourages voters. This resolution, if it results in a constitutional amendment, would change that.

I am proud of this state, which was willing to vote to return governance to the people. I look forward to 32 other states joining California and Vermont.

The views expressed on The Moral Is are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Valley Public Radio.