I’m sure you haven’t noticed that there seem to be an awful lot of political commercials on the teevee lately, but American Tradition Partnership, (who brought the Citizens United ruling to Montana) thinks you haven’t been bombarded by enough political rhetoric.
“Current Montana law limits the maximum amount that individuals and political-action committees can give to state candidates, depending on the office. The limit is $630 for giving to gubernatorial candidates, per election cycle, and $160 for legislative candidates.” That’s not good enough for conservative allies currently suing the state to overturn our law. Assistant Attorney General Mike Black told the court; “I don’t think there’s any evidence that the political parties’ voices are being held to a mere whisper, as they’ve claimed,” and I would tend to agree after the onslaught of ads from corporate PACs that has been unleashed on Montanans this election cycle.
I recently re-read the book “How to Argue and Win Every Time” by Wyoming trial lawyer Gerry Spence and I was struck by a metaphor he used comparing a corporation to a ship. The book was published in 1995, more than 15 years prior to the Citizens United decision that declared corporations to be people and money to be equivalent to free speech, but this is one of the best arguments I have seen to prove the Supreme Court decision wrong. In his metaphor, Spence says,
A corporation is not a human being. It is not a group of human beings. Remember that. It is a fictional structure. A form – a nonliving, nonbreathing, nonhuman form – an invisible form.
“Think of a ship.” Spence continues, “The people who work for the corporation come on board the ship, jump ship, change ships, but they are not the ship… the ship is not responsible for itself. Ships do not think. Ships do not have souls or consciences. Ships do not bear responsibility. Well then, how about the crew? To say that the crew on the corporate ship is the ship is obviously wrong. They only work for the ship. They are only the crew. The captain, too, is not the ship, but a mere ship’s servant. Moreover, the ship continues its life even after the captain dies of old age or is murdered in a mutiny. Well, what about the owners of the ship? The owners of the ship do not steer the ship any more than the stockholders, on a daily basis, run the corporation. Most ship owners have never seen the ship they own. Most are alienated from that which their money has purchased. At last, money, dead money, owns the ship. But money is not responsible. I have closely examined numverous dollar bills over the years and I have yet to witness thereon the first sign of a soul.
Little wonder then that the ownership of the ship, money, which is not alive, and the ship itself, which is not alive, can undertake acts for which there is no responsibility to the living. The ship cannot be held to any criminal responsibility. We cannot put a ship in jail or lock it in the public stocks – especially when the ship, like the corporation is invisible. Nor can we put a criminal corporation in jail or render the death penealty against it even though its mass killings may make the morbid skills of a Jefferey Dahmer look like a tap-dance at a Girl Scout jamboree.”
Ships are not human, nor are corporations. Corporate dominance of our political conversation will almost certainly continue through the November election. I don’t see any real change forthcoming. I-166 – the Corporate Contributions Amendment will be on the ballot in Montana this year, but it is really a law without teeth. It will encourage our congressional delegation to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to override the Citizens United ruling and entreat state lawmakers to lessen corporate dominance, and once again, attempt to stop the copper kings from controlling our state. Nevertheless I encourage you to vote yes on I-166. As we near the reef, it’s time to get this discussion going again.