IRS Scandal a Carbuncle – on a Cancer-Wracked Body
Languishing at the SEC is a proposal to require publicly-traded companies to disclose the money they pour into these “social welfare” groups – funds described as “dark money” because the source is concealed. The idea is that shareholders have a right to know how their investment is used. And it’s a popular concept, with more comments filed on this proposal than on any other suggested rule in SEC history – half a million – the vast majority in favor.
Citing the IRS scandal, Republicans demanded last week that the SEC kill the proposal to require corporations to unveil their attempts to influence elections. New SEC Chair Mary Jo White refused.
Good sign. But still no actual enforcement.
One method of enforcement is on the move. It is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would reverse the Citizens United decision that corporations are people with First Amendment rights to free speech, which includes spending unlimited money on politics. Already, 13 states and more than 300 municipalities have called for approval of the Democracy is For People Amendment. It was introduced in Congress by Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch.
It says natural persons who are citizens of the United States may make campaign contributions. Corporations do not fit that definition of human beings, and as a result would be prohibited from making political gifts.
It would allow contributions from Political Action Committees, which are comprised of human beings who get together and donate under the IRS' political committee rules - Section 527. So groups of union members or wealthy CEOs could continue donating.
Move to Amend activists were heartened by a Pennsylvania judge’s recent decision that corporations are not people and thus do not have a constitutional right to privacy. Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca is no Supreme Court justice. But she understands that there’s an important distinction in the fact that people can be heartened while corporations can’t be. Her decision included this analysis:
“It is axiomatic that corporations, companies and partnership have no “spiritual nature,” “feelings,” “intellect,” “beliefs,” “thoughts,” “emotions,” or “sensations,” because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists. . .They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are but grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, and prune at their pleasure and need.”
Corporations can’t “suffer” illness. They can, however, kill democracy.
To stop toxic corporate interference in elections, the American people could demand that the IRS, which is supposed to be non-partisan, decide exactly what constitutes political activity. They could hope the SEC will do the right thing. What they should do, however, is pass a constitutional amendment clarifying once and for all that corporations are not human and can’t usurp the rights of human beings.