10 Ways to Stop Corporate Dominance of Politics

Published Jan 25, 2010 in Yes! Magazine

It’s not too late to limit or reverse the impact of the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

by Fran Korten

The recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited corporate spending in politics just may be the straw that breaks the plutocracy’s back.

Pro-democracy groups, business leaders, and elected representatives are proposing mechanisms to prevent or counter the millions of dollars that corporations can now draw from their treasuries to push for government action favorable to their bottom line. The outrage ignited by the Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission extends to President Obama, who has promised that repairing the damage will be a priority for his administration.

But what can be done to limit or reverse the effect of the Court’s decision? Here are 10 ideas:

  1. Amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that corporations are not persons and do not have the rights of human beings. Since the First Amendment case for corporate spending as a free speech right rests on corporations being considered “persons,” the proposed amendment would strike at the core of the ruling’s justification. The push for the 28th Amendment is coming from the grassroots, where a prairie fire is catching on from groups such as Public CitizenVoter Action, and the Campaign to Legalize Democracy.
  2. Require shareholders to approve political spending by their corporations. Public Citizen and the Brennan Center for Justice are among the groups advocating this measure, and some members of Congress appear interested. Britain has required such shareholder approval since 2000.
  3. Pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which provides federal financing for Congressional elections. This measure has the backing of organizations representing millions of Americans, including Moveon.org, the NAACP, the Service Employees International Union, and the League of Young Voters. Interestingly, the heads of a number of major corporations have also signed on, including those of Ben & Jerry’s, Hasbro, Crate & Barrel, and the former head of Delta Airlines.
  4. Give qualified candidates equal amounts of free broadcast air time for political messages. This would limit the advantages of paid advertisements in reaching the public through television where most political spending goes.
  5. Ban political advertising by corporations that receive government money, hire lobbyists, or collect most of their revenue abroad. A fear that many observers have noted is that the Court’s ruling will allow foreign corporations to influence U.S. elections. According toThe New York Times, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) are exploring this option.
  6. Impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns. Representative Alan Grayson (D-Florida) proposes this, calling it “The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act.”
  7. Prohibit companies from trading their stock on national exchanges if they make political contributions and expenditures. Another one from Grayson, which he calls “The Public Company Responsibility Act.”
  8. Require publicly traded companies to disclose in SEC filings money used for the purpose of influencing public opinion, rather than for promoting their products. Grayson calls this “The Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act.”
  9. Require the corporate CEO to appear as sponsor of commercials that his or her company pays for, another possibility from the Schumer-Van Hollen team, according to The New York Times
  10. Publicize the reform options, inform the public of who is making contributions to whom, and activate the citizenry. If we are to safeguard our democracy, media must inform and citizens must act.

The measures listed above—and others that seek to reverse the dominance of money in our political system—will not be easy. But grassroots anger at this latest win for corporate power is running high. History shows that when the public is sufficiently aroused, actions that once seemed impossible can, in hindsight, seem inevitable.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Fran Korten wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Fran is publisher of YES! Magazine.

Democracy Unlimited :: In Humboldt County, California, non-local corporations are banned from politics.

Envision Spokane :: Communities around the country are using local law to promote the rights of citizens over those of corporations.

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5 Responses to “10 Ways to Stop Corporate Dominance of Politics”
  1. Anna Haynes says:

    Are there any thought leaders that can make a case for why it might be a good thing for corporations to be persons? (besided to enter into contracts)

    Is there any principled argument for it? (and if so, what?)

  2. Anna Haynes says:


    And thank you Don, for posting this; it’s heartening.

  3. Anna Haynes says:

    Hey, thanks for the intro to Yes magazine. IMO Sierra Voices should also post Yes’s 10 Courageous Things You Can Do to Build Community.

    And I just alerted Joe Romm of Climate Progress about the Global Innovation Commons (from Yes mag’s Dec 2009 No Need to Wait (or Pay) for Climate Technology, on Der Spiegel’s “Patent Lies — Who Says Saving the Planet Has to Cost a Fortune?” ) –

    “The Global Innovation Commons is a massive interactive archive of energy-saving technologies whose patents have expired, been abandoned, or simply have no protection. …What Martin [et al]…say they found is that one in three patents registered today on energy-saving technology [are duplicates of] gadgets that were first dreamed up in the wake of the 1970s oil crisis and are now freely available.”

  4. depelton says:


    Thanks, I’ll look at those other articles you suggested from Yes!

    Regarding the corporate personhood question, here are some questions that Glenn Greenwald posted precisely to counter the idea that corporations, not being natural-born persons, should not be accorded constitutional rights of any kind:

    From http://letters.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2010/01/23/citizens_united/permalink/4516d48dcb324ddf1abb5ca09235aea1.html

    “Do you believe the FBI has the right to enter and search the offices of the ACLU without probable cause or warrants, and seize whatever they want?

    Do they have the right to do that to the offices of labor unions?

    How about your local business on the corner which is incorporated?

    The only thing stopping them from doing this is the Fourth Amendment. If you believe that corporations have no constitutional rights because they’re not persons, what possible objections could you voice if Congress empowered the FBI to do these things?

    Can they seize the property (the buildings and cars and bank accounts) of those entities without due process or just compensation? If you believe that corporations have no Constitutional rights, what possible constitutional objections could you have to such laws and actions?

    Could Congress pass a law tomorrow providing that any corporation – including non-profit advocacy groups — which criticize American wars shall be fined $100,000 for each criticism? What possible
    constitutional objection could you have to that?”

  5. depelton says:


    Thanks for the suggestion about the community-building article. I’ve now reprinted it, as you may have noticed.

    If ever a community needed the principles contained in that article, it’s ours.

    The Yes! article on the Global Innovation Commons is also very interesting. I’ll reprint that as well.

    “Martin is a major irritant to large tech companies because he is challenging a key rationale for patents: that they are essential to promoting innovation. He argues that patents often serve to impede innovative technologies and make them unaffordable—at precisely the time when all countries of the world, rich and poor, need to adopt cutting-edge energy technologies to cut carbon emissions.”

    What does this tell us about the brilliance of the marketplace? It tells us that the market is a game of profit that works brilliantly for those who are allowed to play in it, but sometimes works to the disadvantage of those who are not..

    Some who are excluded from the game included the poor, the environment, etc.

    I can understand why the Global Innovation Common threatens the usual players in the market.

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