H. John Fisher: Let’s give Corporate Americans the right to vote
PLAINFIELD — Each step forward in the struggle for justice invariably evokes a negative response from those who would deny others their rights — those who would, in fact, seek to deny them their very personhood. This has, for example, historically been the case with ethnic minorities, with women and more recently with the LGBT community.
And so it is with the most recent emergent group, the Corporate Americans.
The Supreme Court has, in its wisdom, taken a courageous stand in affirming the personhood of Corporate Americans under its historic Citizens United decision. It seems clear that Citizens United has at last guaranteed Corporate Americans their sacred First Amendment right of freedom of speech. I, for one, can only stand in wonder at how fully even the largest of these recently enfranchised Corporate Americans have embraced their patriotic duty to speak freely during the course of the recent election — selflessly donating countless millions of their hard-earned dollars toward the cause of enlightening a benighted and often unappreciative public.
But Corporate Americans are still denied many of the rights most of us take for granted. While it has been established that Corporate Americans are indeed people, it is shameful to note that they are still denied the most basic right of every American citizen — the right to vote.
That they are still disenfranchised must be particularly painful to Corporate Americans who spent so dearly to influence the election, only to see their guidance ignored by a majority of the electorate.
Giving corporations the vote would, of course, require some minor adjustment to the election laws. While it is clear that Corporate Americans, like other citizens, would need to have been in existence for at least 18 years to become eligible to cast their vote, there are thornier questions to be resolved.
While human beings manifest themselves in a single body at a single location, for example, corporations can (and do) manifest themselves in many forms and at many locations. A corporate giant such as General Motors manifests itself worldwide in far more embodiments than simply its Michigan headquarters. It is certainly arguable that each of its manifestations should therefore be enfranchised.
At a minimum, for example, this would mean that General Motors should be allowed one vote for each of the manufacturing facilities, distribution centers and finance agencies operating under each of its brand names, as well as for any dealerships that it might own, either wholly or in part.
General Motors would thus effectively have several thousand votes, distributed throughout the country. (The franchise would not be extended to any of GM’s foreign operations, as the prospect of Chinese-made Buicks casting their votes in an American election is clearly unthinkable.)
There is little doubt that Corporate Americans would prove to be model citizens, with a voting rate far in excess of that of the general populace. A major financial institution such as the Bank of America, in gratitude for the $45 billion in TARP monies it received during the bailout, would certainly insure that all of its 5,682 branches would cast their votes in every election — as would all of the ATMs associated with each of those branches.
Of course, there will be moral questions involved in taking such a bold, if honorable, step. While we do not ask our military personnel to risk their lives in foreign wars until they are old enough to vote, we think nothing of asking a newly formed corporation to undertake a similar risk. Is it fair to impose such an inequity on our Corporate Americans?
I myself have had the honor of being present at the incorporation (really, the birth) of corporations. I would be delighted to see my progeny at last granted their full rights as people. Perhaps a group such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which labored so diligently if unsuccessfully to influence the past election, would be willing to begin the process that will ultimately bring this question before the Supreme Court — or perhaps Citizens United will once again take action to protect the rights of those people who have been discriminated against simply because they are corporations.
H. John Fisher lives in Plainfield.