We have all heard the expression: “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and I came across an excellent example of this in a case I was reviewing. On January 12, 1905 the Governor of Wisconsin addressed the Wisconsin State Legislature on the problems of letting corporations participate in politics. Here are some excerpts from his speech:
“The participation in government of the corporation as a corporation is a menace. Its action is governed by no sense of individual or personal responsibility. It is controlled by no sentiment of patriotism. Corporations are organized for profit and gain, and enter the field of politics solely in the interests of the business for which they were created.”
He continued his speech in support of legislation to outlaw political contributions by corporations in any political activity.
“I believe it to be vitally important that corporations should be prohibited by law from contributing money for political purposes. Individuals may properly contribute to pay the legitimate expenses of conducting political campaigns. Money so contributed is given with the personal responsibility of the individual making the contribution. But when corporations can furnish money from corporation treasuries to carry elections individual free-will and responsibility is gone. Should the custom of the corporation contributions to campaigns grow broad enough, the whole character of the government would be changed, and corporations not men would rule. The money power would then become the controlling power in the state. There is no surer way of undermining and finally overthrowing free popular government than allowing the system of corporation contributions in political contests and campaigns.” (Journal of the Senate of the Wisconsin Legislature, Volume 1, 1905, pg 89).
The Wisconsin legislature went on to pass a law that stated:
Chapter 492, Section 1: No corporation doing business in this state, shall pay or contribute, or offer, consent or agree to pay or contribute, directly or indirectly, any money, property, free service of its officers or employees or thing of value to any political party, organization, committee or individual for any political purpose whatsoever, or for the purpose of influencing legislation of any kind, or to promote or defeat the candidacy of any person for nomination, appointment or election to any political office.
Wisconsin restricted corporate involvement in politics and the governor was almost prophetic in what could occur if corporations weren’t kept out of the political arena. However, the United States Supreme Court has rendered several opinions that have granted corporations the same rights as individuals, even though they are a fictitious entity. What is left of the Wisconsin law is only that corporations can’t contribute directly to candidates. They can actively participate in ballot initiatives and give monetary support to PACs and political parties. So what the governor feared in 1905 has in part come to pass.
Why should a corporation, an entity that can’t vote and isn’t even alive, be allowed to participate at all in politics? The character of our government has changed and is now run by corporations such as Halliburton, Exxon, and Wal-Mart and not by the people. There is no disputing corporate power in America today. Their money is the controlling power in the state and federal government. Our free and popular government has effectively been replaced by corporate influence.
We need federal legislation to set aside the Supreme Court’s decisions granting corporation the rights of individuals. Individuals make up our democracy based on one person one vote. Corporations aren’t people and shouldn’t be allowed to have the rights of individuals. The Governor of Wisconsin was right in 1905, and he would be right on point today. We should learn from our history and not make the same mistakes.