Corporations in the US are a major player in the economy, but they also play a large role in politics. Larger corporations have lobbyists who target legislators and these companies often contribute substantial amounts of money to political campaigns. In fact, their right to do so has been confirmed by the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court decided in 2010 in a case known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations were allowed, under the First Amendment, to make political expenditures.
In addition, corporations have special rights and privileges, including the ability to essentially become treated, under the law, as individuals. Corporate personhood is a legal concept that allows corporations to sue and to enjoy other rights as individuals under common law. The concept has been in place since at least 1819, but it has always been a controversial idea. Some claim that corporate personhood is important for contracts, but others argue that it grants corporations too much power.
Recently, in New Haven, protestors gathered to speak out against corporate personhood and to demand that it be banned. The crowd met at the City Hall to voice their protests, their actions coming shortly after the Board of Aldermen Human Services Committee conducted a public hearing about the issue. The committee was establishing a resolution asking Congress and the Connecticut General Assembly to change the US Constitution so that corporate personhood would no longer be permitted. The committee decided unanimously to pass along the resolution in June to the full Board of Aldermen to ensure that the next steps were taken to end corporate personhood.
There appear to be at least three groups supporting the resolution, including Alderman Douglas Hausladen, the Green Party, and Occupy New Haven. Some of the groups, including Alderman Douglas Hausladen, have expressed their concerns about corporations’ roles in politics, especially. Some feel that while corporations are not seen as people, their ability to fund political campaigns with their large resources can sway the outcome of elections and can make public elections less free.
New Haven is not the only city concerned about corporate personhood. A number of cities, including Los Angeles, Vermont, and New York, have passed similar resolutions about the issue. There is hope among groups supporting the end of corporate personhood that if enough cities pass resolutions, the US Congress and other federal groups will be forced to pay attention to the issue.