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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
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As I See It

Corporations will speak loudly at ballot box in 2012

September 26th, 2011 12:22 pm by Robert Houk

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination, made a telling remark in Iowa last month when a protester suggested corporations enjoy far too many tax loopholes.
“Corporations are people, my friend,” Romney said.
Some of those in the audience couldn’t quite believe their ears. Romney, in a rare display of decisiveness on his part, plowed on despite taunts from the crowd.
“Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people,” Romney said. “Where do you think it goes?”
But you don’t have to take Romney’s word for it. The U.S. Supreme Court has said corporations are the same as people — at least when it comes to being able to contribute money to political campaigns. In a landmark decision handed down last year in the Citizens United case, the conservative majority of the court ruled it was unconstitutional to ban businesses and unions from funding campaign activities by independent groups.
Justices said the ability to give cash to campaigns is the same as freedom of speech and corporations possess the same constitutional rights as a living, breathing person does.
If corporations are really the same as people, then I wonder if it’s possible to buy a corporation a beer? Can we now marry a corporation and if so what precedent does that set? Where will it end? Allow people to marry corporations and the next thing you know there will be perverts wanting to marry limited liability partnerships.

The Citizens United decision has created panic for some Democrats, but not for all. There are many corporate-loving Democrats who are just as delighted as Republicans to see the ruling.
The decision does allow labor unions to play a larger monetary role in campaigns, but there are very few well-heeled unions left today to dole out donations. What the Citizens United decision does, however, is to remove the need for subterfuge when it comes to the influence corporations have on campaigns.
This is what troubles Americans who believe big business already exerts too much influence over our elected officials. Groups across the country are holding rallies to protest the Citizens United decision and to call for an end to the concept of corporate personhood. One such “Rally for the Humans” was held in Johnson City on Saturday.
The organizer told Press Business writer Kate Prahlad that he and others hope to get a constitutional amendment passed to abolish corporate personhood. Loren Chapman also said the first step will be to convince Tennessee lawmakers to put the issue on a statewide ballot.
Apparently, Chapman has never met the Republicans who control the state General Assembly. GOP leaders love the Citizens United ruling. They even passed a new law this year to give businesses the same contribution abilities as political action committees.
Before the new law, most Tennessee businesses were allowed only to operate PACs funded through employee contributions. Not any more. The Citizens United ruling will allow big businesses and their big bucks to speak loudly at the ballot box next year.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at

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