UCONN: Students call for reforms over 'corporate personhood'

February 23, 2010
Jay Polansky

Think of the name of your favorite corporation. Then add a “Mr.,” “Mrs.” or “Ms.” before it.

As a result of a recent United States Supreme Court decision, corporations have been granted free speech – a key right of personhood – creating contention in the campus and political communities.

“This egregious decision turns back the clock on over 60 years of precedent,” said Jenn Hatch, a ConnPIRG associate, in a press release.

U.S. PIRG, ConnPIRG’s parent organization, recently applauded Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollden’s proposed reforms to the court’s decision. The reforms include stipulations that corporations disclose information on advertising spending and provide shareholders with information before they spend money on advertisements. Other proposed changes exclude corporations that have not repaid TARP money from financing political advertisements.

“The reforms outlined today ... are needed to blunt the worst impacts of the heinous judicial overreach bythe Court,” U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate Lisa Gilbert said in a press release.

“U.S. PIRG applauds this framework. Our democracy is at risk like never before and the playing field of American politics is far from level. Congress must pass this strong package of reforms to protect regular constituents,” Gilbert added.

St. John McCloskey, a 2nd-semester economics and philosophy major said that he believes that there should be “no special rights for corporations over people. As far as the law is concerned, they’re the same, or should be according to the Supreme Court. I’m not saying I agree that they should be the same, but if they are the same, I want to see that they take the responsibilities of people as well as the benefits.”

In contrast, The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, applauded the decision. “Almost every one of the many associations we have in this country (no matter which side of the political aisle they are on), from the NAACP to the Sierra Club to the National Rifle Association, are also corporations. Yet those corporate associations were prohibited under penalty of criminal and civil sanctions from expressing the views of their members in the political arena … ,” read a post on “The Foundry,” the organization’s blog.

The 5-4 decision came in the case of Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission. Controversy arose when the corporation allegedly violated the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 by using ‘company funds’ to produce television ads for broadcast television to promote a documentary critical of Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Now, under the decision, the political landscape has changed. Corporations can now spend company money to promote or criticize candidates who are running for political office.

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Jay Polanski is a student at the University of Connecticut.