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Corporations are people, my friend. Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?
– Mitt Romney
It is no wonder that Mitt Romney thinks corporations are wonderful. Corporations have provided him with most of the $18.4 million he has raised for his 2012 campaign for president, which is more than the nine other Republican candidates combined. Seventy percent of the contributions to the Romney campaign are the maximum $2,500, 10 times more than the seven percent of the maximum contributions to his chief rival for the party nomination, Michele Bachmann.
To Mitt Romney, corporations are not only people, they are his best friends.
In the purely legal sense, Romney is not incorrect in stating that corporations are people. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1886 that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment did not merely grant constitutional protections to human beings, but to corporations as well. And he is theoretically correct to state that eventually, in the fullness of time, money that flows through a corporation will finally end up in an actual human being’s pocket.
Setting aside whether this historical decision made any sense (and Hugo Black’s 1938 dissent in Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Johnson is an succinct summary of why it did not), it is not difficult to demonstrate why the correct aspects of Romney’s assertion that corporations are people are entirely irrelevant.
Take what can be considered the “money flow” argument. U.S. corporations presently have an estimated $1.5 trillion sitting in foreign balance sheets and overseas bank accounts. That money, which represents 10 percent of current U.S. GDP, is presently awaiting a repeat of the 2004 tax repatriation holiday that will allow those corporations to avoid paying a 35 percent tax. In the absence of Congress caving on the issue, these corporate “people” will likely leave that money sitting overseas indefinitely, thereby disproving Mitt Romney’s argument. Corporations don’t have to pay anything out to their shareholders or even their employees, indeed, one can readily observe that as corporations become more powerful, they are less inclined to permit their profits to be distributed to the actual human beings who own them.
A more conclusive argument is the absence of a state of equitable responsibility between natural persons and corporations. When a natural person is found guilty of committing a crime, he is usually punished by imprisonment. Among other things, this prevents him from earning an income while he is in jail. When a corporation breaks the law, however, it is only forced to pay a fine that is usually a small fraction of the amount of profit it generated from the crime. And one can’t reasonably expect to see corporations incarcerated, it is equally obvious that guilty corporations are not prevented from engaging in income-generating activities in the same manner that guilty natural persons are. Therefore, corporations are obviously not people.
But the most crucial reason that corporations are not people is that natural persons are creations of God. Corporations are creations of government. As America’s Founding Fathers declared, it is self-evident that creatures possess the rights with which they are endowed by their creators. Since man is not God, he does not have the power to endow his creatures with the same rights and abilities that God endowed His. And while the rights and abilities of natural persons cannot be taken away by government, but only violated, the rights and abilities of corporations can be modified or taken away by government at any time. Therefore, we must not only conclude that corporations are not people, but that any attempt to claim an equivalence between natural persons and corporations is an intrinsically false and potentially deleterious act.
However, Mitt Romney is to be lauded for articulating the core belief of the Republican establishment in a cogent, three-word summary. And in doing so, he demonstrated why the tea party will either have to break that establishment, or break with the Republican Party, if it is to succeed in restoring due regard for financial gravity to Washington. It has taken decades, but the Republican grass-roots finally appears to be realizing that what is good for General Motors and Bank of America is by no means necessarily good for America, much less Americans.
Mitt Romney finished seventh in the Iowa straw poll. He has neither conservative, small-government principles nor popular support. And yet, in the eyes of the media, he remains the front runner for the Republican nomination. That means the present nomination campaign is an almost perfect test for determining whether it is corporations or citizens who presently determine the course of the Republican Party.