Measure F Official Title: Advisory Measure to End Corporate Rule and Defend Democracy
Mendocino County, California, election of November 6, 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court, so far, is okay with our government telling us exactly how much lead can be in our drinking water; how far apart (and from what types of trees) studs must be in the houses we build; and what banners cheerleaders can hold up, or not hold up, at public school football games. But when it comes to political campaign contributions, the Court had ruled that almost anything goes.
The effect, of course, is to allow both the average citizens and billionaires the rights to give unlimited funds to use in political advertising. How much can you give? True, most politicians have always allowed themselves to be bought and sold like so many properties on a monopoly board. The recent change is that the Supreme Court says Congress cannot regulate campaign contributions even in its own elections (even though the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power of regulating the "manner" of elections in Article I, Section 4.). The election of 2012 is consequently being characterized by almost endless political advertisements funded by the criminally wealthy. Most of this "political free speech" as the Supreme Court would characterize it, is in the form of misleading attack ads.
The billionaires may be private citizens, but in almost every case their wealth was created by corporations. These corporations themselves, according to the Supreme Court, are persons with rights granted by the Constitution.
Imagine, however, if when the Mendocino County Building inspectors showed up, someone claimed that their construction project was a person, and therefore exempt from building codes. That the house has a right to build itself from sub-standard materiasl, for instance. That may seem absurd, but if the reasoning (if it can be called that) of the Supreme Court is taken to its logical conclusion, the housing result follows. Ultimately, by saying free speech implies a total lack of regulation, the Supremes argue that government should have no power whatsoever.
Why are corporations persons? Why, per the Supremes, because they are owned by persons, and to suppress the (alleged) rights of corporations would be to suppress the rights of the real human persons who own them.
Corporations are a form of property. You can buy or sell them like any other form of property. They have a legitimate purpose: to allow investors to share risks and rewards. There is nothing wrong with that in a barbaric, pre-utopian economy.
Proposition F takes the position, and allows the voters of Mendocino to take a position, saying the obvious: property is not a person. Property does not have free speech rights, or the right to freedom of religion, or the right to make political campaign donations.
A building is a piece of property. It can (and usually does) have multiple owners. Should personhood free buildings from regulation? Should city buildings be exempt from fire and safety codes?
Of course not. In a democracy we can argue endlessly about the details of the building codes, and the food and drug safety codes, and whether every child in every car must be strapped in a special seat meeting government regulations. But we need building codes, and food inspections, and the other trapping of civilization. Unless we want to abandon civilization itself.
We need to regulate campaigns, taking into account the needs of the candidates to have fair access to voters. And of the elected officials to represent all of the citizens, not just a few wealthy donors. We need to keep any particular group of people from buying the politicians who are supposed to represent all of us.
Measure F may only be an advisory measure, but it is sound advice.
William P. Meyers, Publisher and Editor, Mendoday.com
CaliforniaDemocracy.org pages on corporate personhood and related issues.
Move to Amend seeks to amend the Constitution to abolish corporate personhood and allow for the regulation of election campaigns.