The notion, on it’s face, that a corporation deserves civil rights like a person is pretty laughable. Corporations are synthetic people, constructed to free individual people from the liability of entrusting others to act on their behalf or acting on the behalf of others. As a synthetic people it makes sense to give corporations some right; obviously they don’t need the right to have an abortion or the right to medical privacy, but the right to own property? Well yeah they do need that one, in that with out it they cannot function for their intended purpose.
So what about the right to freedom of speech? I think that there are two ways to approach this. One, a weaker (more restrictive) path from a stronger foundation is to examine how freedom of the press plays into the matter. The other, stronger connection from a weaker foundation, is to look at the purpose of corporations and see how this does or does not contribute to those interests.
Starting with freedom of the press, take Rachael Maddow, she can say that she likes or dislikes a candidate or issue, it’s up to her as a member of the press, but what about MSNBC? MSNBC may be a press outlet, but they are also a corporation, do corporations not have rights? Well if MSNBC doesn’t have rights then why do they get to use their resources to spread Rachael Maddow’s agenda? Shouldn’t they be stopped? These PACs have political agendas, but they are also spreading information and opinions, that’s what the press does. If you harken back to the formative years of our constitution the newsprint was full of strong ideas and opinions, it wasn’t until the gilded age that they even bothered to try to look neutral. That freedom of the press was so that people would be able to use press institutions to spread their ideas. PACs aren’t selling information to consumers, they are giving it away, but why does that make it worse? Are PSAs not the press now? If I go to put a public notice in the paper for zoning purposes can I be blocked for doing it for corporate business purposes?
Now looking at the interests of corporations. Because a corporation can be held by several people that corporation can have its own unique synthesis of interests. If I own a portion of a corporation then there can exist an issue or politician that I have an interest by proxy in but have no direct interest in myself. Take for instance a corporation in Delaware owned by a Brit, a Floridian, and a Washingtonian; None of those three owners have direct interests in the outcome of a Delaware election, save for the interests of their corporation. In order to protect themselves from unfair and unreasonable liability the three of them created that synthetic person and along with that synthetic creation came the emergence of real considerations and real needs. Considerations and needs of the same sort that prompted us to create the civil rights for real people in the first place.
It would be nice to keep those with huge amounts of influence in politics already from getting more, but I don’t know that we can do that with out endangering the rights that I hold dear, rights that you should hold dearly too, if you’ve got them.