6.17.2010

Corporate 'right to lie'? Ludicrous

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Corporate 'right to lie'? Ludicrous
David Cobb
Article Launched: 11/25/2006 02:13:35 PM PST

Last week, Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos filed a brief in a pending fraud lawsuit against Maxxam Corp./Pacific Lumber.

The trial judge dismissed the case last year, asserting in part that Maxxam Corp. is a “person” with a constitutionally protected “right to lie” when petitioning their elected representatives. It's hard to imagine a more ludicrous argument. It would be laughable if the circumstances weren't so damned serious.

At the crux of the fraud lawsuit are allegations that the corporation intentionally submitted fraudulent and deceptive data in order to secure timber plans. At this point we cannot know if these claims are true. And as a result of the outrageous and ridiculous idea that a corporation is a “person” vested with constitutional rights, we may never know the truth.

Let's quickly review what we do know.

We know that after our elected district attorney filed the fraud lawsuit, Maxxam Corp. responded by contributing over $250,000 in an attempt to recall him.

We know that without this obscene amount of money, the effort to collect signatures for the effort would have failed miserably, because recall supporters were unable to collect sufficient numbers of signatures with volunteers.

We know that Maxxam's representatives originally insisted that they were not contributing to the recall -- which we now know was an intentional misrepresentation. We know that the people of Humboldt overwhelming rejected this heavy-handed corporate effort.

We also know that the courts and judges can be wrong.

Courts once held that indigenous people were not legally “persons.” Courts once ruled that slavery was acceptable and that women had “lesser” rights than men. Courts once ruled that trade unions were a criminal conspiracy and that Jim Crow segregation laws did not violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. We know that courts and judges can be utterly and profoundly wrong.

And we know that the doctrine of “Corporate Personhood” is wrong.

To quote from his order, the judge specifically acknowledged that he was basing his dismissal on “a constitutional privilege... of the right of citizens to petition their government.” He also writes that “the concept of representation depends upon the ability of the people to make their wishes known to their representatives.”

Think about that. This judge is equating a corporation filing timber harvest plans with a citizen petitioning elected representatives.

The U.S. Constitution is designed to protect flesh-and-blood people when they are exercising their political and civil rights.

That's good thing, because concentrated power and decision-making authority is a source of potential tyranny.
Of course, a corporation is itself a source of concentrated wealth and power. And corporations are increasingly wielding more decision-making authority over our lives.

And aren't elected officials elected by people to represent people? Or is the judge tacitly admitting that our government is increasingly representing corporations?

To be sure, every employee of a corporation has the right to sign petition recalls and to lobby their government. But they hold these political rights by virtue of their status as human persons in a democracy. No corporation can legitimately claim these political rights.

This unfolding scenario is just another example of the fact that unelected and unaccountable corporate CEOs have hijacked our government. They make public policy, but pretend that their decisions are entirely "private" corporate matters beyond the scope of our authority. And the courts are increasingly conspiring with the corporate elite to legitimize this usurpation.

So I join with others across the county in thanking District Attorney Gallegos for appealing the dismissal of the lawsuit. But in the court of public opinion, Maxxam has already lost.

It's time for “We the People” to assert our fundamental right to self-governance. It's time to abolish the doctrine of “Corporate Personhood.”

David Cobb was the Green Party candidate for president in 2004 and currently works for Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County. He can be reached at david@duhc.org.