Public Institutions Undermined by Large Corporations

A recent article on the corporate state by Ralph Nader presents a somewhat legalistic view, but it does not note that the case for corporate personhood often cited is completely illegitimate. The case I refer to here is Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, where a court reporter (who was a former corporate executive for the railroad industry) wrote the case’s headnote, even though the application of equal protection to railroads per the Fourteenth Amendment wasn’t addressed by the Supreme Court’s decision.

Again, the 1886 Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company has been used to affirm Constitutional rights for corporations all based on a court reporter’s headnote. This headnote statement has been used as a precedent for later decisions, despite it not being part of the dissenting or concurring opinions of the Justices and not being part of the Supreme Court’s ruling. That’s really absurd, and it represents a grotesque example of the law being used to reinforce the economic dominance of the corporate elite.

Remarkably, the artificial creation called the “corporation” has now achieved almost all of the rights of real people under our “We the People” Constitution that never mentions the words “corporation” or “company.”

Corporations cannot vote, at least not yet; only people can. That was seen as a major lever of democratic power over corporations. So what has happened? Commercial money to politicians started weakening the influence of voters because the politicians became increasingly dependent on the corporate interests that bankrolled their campaigns. The politicians use their ever-increasing corporate cash to saturate voters with deceptive political ads, and intimidate any competitors who have far less money, but may be far better representative of the public good.

To further shatter the principle of voter sovereignty, corporations have rewarded those politicians who construct restrictive political party rules, gerrymander electoral districts and obstruct third party candidate ballot access. By concentrating political power in fewer and fewer hands, corporate influence becomes more deeply entrenched in our democratic society. Politicians quickly learn that political favors will attract more corporate campaign cash and other goodies.


Some fundamental questions are: Will we as citizens use our Constitutional authority to reclaim and redirect the power we’ve too broadly delegated to elected officials? Will we hold these officials accountable through a reformed campaign finance system that serves the people over the plutocrats? Will we realize that a better society starts with just a few people in each electoral district and never requires more than one percent of the voters, organized and reflecting public opinion, to make the corporations our servants, not our masters?