Monday, May 3, 2010

Two Tales of "Corporate Personhood"

 The First Tale

The first idea for this post comes from Thom Hartmann (The Thom Hartmann Show, 10 AM - 1 PM, weekdays, AM 1350, KABQ, Albuquerque).  Mr. Hartmann has posed a thoughtful question as to the limits of that corporate "personhood."

The question.

If a corporation is a very bad actor, a criminal actor, which has caused great personal and bodily harm to otherwise uninvolved victims, should that corporation face the death penalty?

After all, Lehman Brothers died, and it was an ignominious death just a bit less objective than one perfected in an electric chair or gas chamber.  On the other hand, the "king bees" of that defunct pinnacle of fraud and felony still seemed "flush enough" to appear in $4,000 suits at their Congressional hearings.

Quite aside from the rolling blanket of "wet wool" innuendo being bandied about after the recent Supreme Court outrage, a corporation can, actually, die.  Further, should the measure of the gravity of such crimes be somehow tallied on some sort of special metric, that is, not the measure of gravity that a minority, inner city teenager would encounter for stealing a car, but rather a concept of gravity which could reasonably embrace horrible, destructive criminal acts which have left hundreds or thousands of citizens gravely injured.

Obliterating thousands of family livelihoods qualifies as such an injury.  And, by the way, not obliterating them for a week or two, obliterating them for a generation.  Exaggerating?  Recall that after the Exxon Valdez disaster, thirty years passed before all the bankrupted fishermen in Resurrection Bay finally received 10% or 12% of what they were initially offered in their court case.
That old "nasty" proved to be a good investment for Exxon.  The original settlement was in the billions, but after adding a few hundred million to the legal defense fund, the desperate fishermen settled for what pittance they could get.  MeanMesa was there.

 BP is a little more, uh, civilized than Exxon, but this story still seems too similar to a recurring nightmare.  Remember.  The death penalty.

At least maybe a few years in a corporate prison.

The Second Tale

In Arkansas, the Democratic Primary election to select a candidate for the state's Senate seat is heating up viciously.  The contest is between Senator Blanche Lincoln, the incumbent, and the state's Lieutenant Governor, Bill Halter.

Now, these two are already involved in a massive slug fest, and the race has reached a very close state.  However, at the last minute an "outside" source has started running well financed "attack ads" against the Lt. Governor.   At first blush, one might think that this expensive trash campaign was being sponsored by Senator Lincoln.  That would be an error.

Instead, these advertisements -- not in support of the incumbent Senator, just attacking her slightly more liberal primary opponent -- turn out to be financed by a group called Americans for Job Security.  Under the most recent Supreme Court decision, Americans for Job Security's financing and promotion of these television ads is protected by our Constitution's free speech clause.

Just to round this story out a bit, let's just throw in a direct quote from Politics Daily.


Americans for Job Security has bought $780,925 worth of television air time in Little Rock, Fort Smith and Jonesboro – the state's three big media markets – from May 3 to May 14.

On Saturday morning Lincoln denounced the ad.

"I condemn the television ad reportedly scheduled to air in Arkansas sponsored by a group called Americans for Job Security," Lincoln said. "It is offensive and doesn't belong in Arkansas. As a victim myself of constant negative attack ads by outside third party groups since early March, I deeply regret that their participation in this campaign isn't more constructive."

In a debate on April 24, Halter said to Lincoln, "Why don't you ask the folks who are running ads claiming that I am privatizing Social Security to identify themselves? We have no idea who they are." Lincoln said she would like the third parties to make their identities clear, "instead of making cagy names, or putting them at the bottom of their ads, or their postcards, or anything else."

Americans for Job Security does not attribute any source for the statements against Halter that it makes in its commercial.

"The ad repeats a charge that is false -- the company on whose board Lt. Gov. Bill Halter served expanded its operations in India and there is no evidence that it outsourced jobs" the Halter campaign said in a statement. "Meanwhile, thousands of Arkansans have seen their jobs shipped overseas thanks to votes from Sen. Lincoln." Lincoln supported NAFTA, CAFTA, and other trade deals.

Eight Republicans are vying for the party's nomination on May 18. And a recent poll shows Halter as a stronger candidate than Lincoln against any of them in the General Election. In Washington, the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics has described Americans for Job Security as "pro-Republican."

But the conservative Chamber of Commerce apparently prefers Sen. Lincoln at this stage of the campaign, and has purchased an additional $600,000 worth of ads on her behalf.

According to a 2004 article in the Texas Observer, Americans for job security is a 501 (c) (6) organization. The article said that it's "estimated the group has spent about $26 million on political races all over the nation, including $8.5 million in 2002 and $7.5 million in 2000." The group's website states "Americans for Job Security has been active with issue advocacy campaigns in over 98 media markets in 46 States and the District of Columbia." Started in 1997, the site states that the group is "the only independent, bipartisan, pro-business issue advocacy organization in America." It has raised $40 million in membership dues.

And its members? From The group's website: "Our members are businesses, business leaders and entrepreneurs from around the country. AJS does not disclose or discuss its membership further than this. Too often politicians or the media define an organization or message not by the merits of the argument, but rather by the perception of the people associated with it. We would rather the people decide on merits, instead of name-calling."

This is what was decided by the Bushite Monkey's on the Supreme Court.  It is a Roberts/Alito neo-con wet dream which allows any amount of money from any source -- domestic or not -- to be channeled into such a campaign.  In this case, by damaging the candidates in the Arkansas Democratic Primary, the chances that another looting, lying, crooked Republican will be elected are improved.

Because Americans for Job Security just happens to have 3/4 of a million dollars laying around, there will be nothing particularly local about the way this election unfolds.

Thanks, Supreme Court.

Can I please have another, sir...

for more reading:

Daylife on Bill Halter and the campaign

Legal-Sleaze.com has several articles

and, Daily Kos on the Arkansas Senate Debates