Imagine a caveman wakes up in the modern world, sees a television for the first time and smashes it with the first object he can lay hands on. He doesn't know anything about it, but assumes it's a threat and feels compelled to destroy it.
That sums up the young lefts view of corporate personhood. People with no understanding of business law have taken it upon themselves to edit the constitution to strike at firms they see as their enemies, but don't realize how savage their actions really are.
The point of a corporation is to create a legal entity that can own property, has its own debts and can spend its resources. It is, in essence, a stand-in for a group of people. It is not, as critics like to remind us, an actual person, but that doesn't mean corporations don't deserve rights.
From a 2011 Cato Institute paper by Iila Shapiro and Caitlyn W. McCarthy:
...If corporations had no Fourth Amendment rights, the police could storm corporate offices and cart off computers and files for any or no reason. If corporations had no Fifth Amendment rights, the mayor of New York could exercise eminent domain over Rockefeller Center by fiat and without compensation if he decides he’d like to move his office there.The targeted constitutional right that activists want to take away from corporations is freedom of speech, following last year's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.
...When rights-bearing individuals associate to better engage in a whole host of constitutionally protected activity, their constitutional rights remain fully intact. These individuals do not lose their right to speak or act simply because they chose to exercise those rights by pooling their resources in a corporate form.
As retired ACLU executive director Ira Glasser carefully explained, the case did not allow corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions like the left claims. Instead, it ended a stupid censorship ban that protected politicians from being criticized by corporations or unions around elections. This was a victory over censorship.
Glasser addressed another issue the left likes to make, that the wealth corporations command could allow them to drown out all other speech, so the government needs to cap what they can say. He wrote:
The inequities of speech that flow from the inequities of wealth are certainly a big and distorting problem for a democracy, and have always been so, and not just during elections. No one knows how to remedy that, short of fundamental re-distributions of wealth. But I'll tell you what isn't a remedy: granting the government the power to decide who should speak, and how much speech is enough. Nothing but disaster flows from that approach, and that was what was at stake in this case.This idea of leveling the playing field for speech belongs in Harrison Bergeron's dystopia. If an entity's speech is too persuasive because of its reach, scope or volume, why not censor speakers who are skilled at attracting large audiences or making compelling arguments? Free speech does not need government oversight, and the ACLU has consistently supported corporate speech rights, despite left-wing campaigns that try to pressure them into switching sides.
Without free speech, corporations would be handicapped in trying to defend themselves in the public arena. Suppose a large group of naturalists starts a campaign that Acme widgets cause cancer, and have no scientific basis for this claim. What happens now? The activists get in the press, they talk to other people and they may be allowed to pass out their literature in classrooms.
But the corporation isn't a real person, so it needs to spend money in its own defense to speak. Perhaps science-based speakers will call the activists on their nonsense, but should Acme have to wait around hoping for good Samaritans? Why prevent it from launching a similar campaign to correct the lie using its own resources?
As my fellow defenders have been quick to point out, many groups the left loves are corporations who enjoy free speech. There's the ACLU, Media Matters, the Daily KOS, MSNBC, NORML MoveOn.org and the transparently-named Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Once again, members of the American left are on the wrong side of a freedom of speech issue. Censorship harms the potential listener, not just the thwarted speaker, and adults don't need a moderator to decide who they can listen to.