Manipulative, deceitful, aggressive, remorseless, lacking empathy and affect — all are classic definitions of psychopathic social behavior, according to psychiatric evaluations. These are traits also emblematic of today's legal fictions called corporations — entities that have taken control of our democracy and our lives, entities that exist only for the purpose of increased revenue and profit, without innate moral impulse. It is time we finally grapple with the problematic status of "legal person" or "corporate personhood" now granted by law, and call corporate behaviors out for what they are and do.
The financial power corporations wield, spending billions of dollars to lobby and litigate, exerts massive influence in the selection of judges, lawmaking and elected officials — to a degree far beyond the power of any of us as individuals. It also binds those legally bribed recipients to their will and bidding.
Corporate power under the guise of constitutionally sanctioned "personhood" has invaded every aspect of individual life in our nation — criminal justice, education, environment, housing, press and media, health and safety. To maximize profits, they control availability and cost of consumer goods, from gasoline to prescription drugs to infant formula. Subsidized by taxpayer dollars, they manipulate and corrupt regulatory processes with the goal of attaining total privatization of all public amenities. The ultimate goal is restricting the role of government solely to that of maintaining military and police power.
There is such a thing as common good that is necessary in a productive, healthy and stable society. We all need housing, safe food and air, health care, education and dependable infrastructure. Privatizing these amenities makes them available only to the wealthy, weakening the whole of society and creating anger, frustration and cynicism with democracy itself.
Now, with corporations as "persons," it is extremely difficult to curtail their profit-driven activities. For example, those of us working for healthcare justice through the formation of a unified, publicly financed, universal healthcare system, face the prospect of corporate healthcare insurance companies taking refuge from accountability for waste, abuse and fraud — by posing as "persons" with equal constitutional rights to "privacy" and freedom from "discrimination." Already, as "persons" with free speech and equal protection under the law, corporations feel blameless in marketing cigarettes and other dangerous and unhealthy products to children, desecrating the environment, loosening gun laws and a whole plethora of antisocial, destructive-but-profitable endeavors.
Turning corporations into persons began gradually. In the 1886 U.S. Supreme Court decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, the court appeared to grant a corporation the same rights as an individual under the 14th Amendment. Since that time, judges have acted in accordance with the concept of "corporate personhood," allowing companies to hold property, enter contracts, to sue and be sued, just like a human being — striking down local, state and federal laws designed to protect actual citizens from corporate harm. Since then, hundreds of decisions favoring corporate interests have been enshrined in the fiction that, as "persons," corporations enjoy such constitutional rights as free speech, religious freedom, privacy and protection from discrimination and self-incrimination.
In a sweeping expansion of corporate rights, the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), SCOTUS ruled that political speech by corporations is a form of free speech that is covered under the First Amendment. Money itself was enshrined as "speech." Thus has evolved SCOTUS's complicity as handmaiden to corporate hegemony. Witness SCOTUS's recent evisceration of the Environmental Protection Act and overturning New York gun regulations.
As well, corporations now may hide behind the safeguards against regulatory searches stated in the Fourth Amendment. This ruling dramatically expanded the already outsized political influence of wealthy donors, corporations and special interest groups, and allowed the creation of super PACS where the source and spending of monies is secret.
Since the Citizens United decision, Move to Amend was created as a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization that seeks to blunt corporate power by amending the United States Constitution to end corporate personhood. HJR (House Joint Resolution) 48, introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal in 2021-2022, proposes such an amendment stating the rights protected by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only. This amendment requires federal, state and local governments to regulate election contributions and expenditures, and requires that any such contributions be publicly disclosed. It also prohibits the judiciary from construing the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment or abridging the freedom of the press. HJR 48 is currently under consideration with 100 co-sponsors in the House and 25 in the Senate.
Even as a U.S. Supreme Court reversal is unlikely and a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United would be difficult, there are still interim policy solutions available. HR1, the For the People Act, passed the House in 2021 but was stymied in the Senate. That bill would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics and ban partisan gerrymandering. Only public pressure will force our representatives in the Senate to end the filibuster and pass this bill while we work on amending the Constitution.
In our first paragraph, above, we identified the hallmarks of psychopathic corporate behavior. The Corporation, a 2004 documentary (free on YouTube), expands on this proposition following the traits of various corporations that fit these criteria in an entertaining and informative format. Coming soon is The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel (see the trailer at www.movetoamend.org), revealing how corporations are taking over society with more sophisticated branding as socially conscious entities. Move to Amend has sponsored and will be promoting this upcoming, eye-opening Canadian film.
We'll never have an authentic democracy so long as corporations are granted the same rights as individuals. That's why Move to Amend educates and organizes to abolish corporate constitutional rights. The reckless pursuit of profit without regard to the wellbeing of the planet or the humans that live here should be rejected.
Please join Move to Amend to protect our rights against the frightening encroachment of corporate hegemony. Start by signing its petition online, (www.movetoamend.org/amendment) and checking out its calls to action. It's beyond time to remove corporate psychopathy from the commonwealth.
Corinne Frugoni (she/her) is a retired local family practice physician. She lives in Arcata. Patty Harvey (she/her) is a retired professor who taught at College of the Redwoods. She lives in Willow Creek. They are co-directors of the combined organizations, Humboldt chapters of Health Care for All-CA and Physicians for a National Health Program.