By Tim Peacock
|Rep. Steve Lavin|
Think Progress reported on Friday about Montana state Rep. Steve Lavin and this bill he introduced into the Montana legislature. The bill - HB 486 - would give corporations the right to vote in municipal elections. The relevant sections of the bill say:
Provision for vote by corporate property owner. (1) Subject to subsection (2), if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election as provided in [section 1].
(2) The individual who is designated to vote by the entity is subject to the provisions of [section 1] and shall also provide to the election administrator documentation of the entity’s registration with the secretary of state under 35-1-217 and proof of the individual’s designation to vote on behalf of the entity.
The legislation is just one of many egregious results of the Citizens United decision. Like many similar pieces of legislation, HB 486 seeks to extend the reach of faceless corporations into the realm of actual human affairs. This shouldn't shock anyone though - giving corporations the same rights and privileges as human beings is the ultimate goal of conservatives (who view the private corporation as the ultimate form of freedom that deserves protection from government intrusion, otherwise known as laissez faire ideology).
The ideology is pervasive and visible in several conservative arguments. One such argument is the idea that companies should have the ability to operate based on a set of religious beliefs (attempting to attribute First Amendment religious exercise freedoms to corporate entities). This was evident in both the Hobby Lobby contraceptives debate as well as Conestoga Wood. In both instances, conservatives argued that because the corporation owners held a certain set of beliefs, they should be able to exercise those beliefs through their corporate actions. The courts did not agree in either case (thankfully). The most important line from the latter ruling - a line that could and should be used in evaluating corporations and their "personhood" - is this:
“[g]eneral business corporations … do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” [snip]
“‘[i]ncorporation’s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs’
This decision also ties in with the United States v Lee decision that determined religious liberty does not give a company the ability to “impose the employer’s religious faith on the employees."
Similarly, corporations do not have opinions - those that own and run them do. By attempting to extend the influence of wealthy corporate owners through their businesses, corporate personhood only offers additional political and governmental influence middle and lower income class citizens do not other have. For instance: using the language in this particular voting bill, corporations that have a physical address in one town would be able to affect municipal elections even if their owners and employees lived in another municipality. Effectively, those corporate owners have additional votes in jurisdictions they don't even reside within.
Thankfully for the people of Montana, Lavin's bill was tabled in committee and doesn't appear to have a chance of passing. That doesn't mean conservatives will stop making attempts at humanizing corporations in the future. They're attempting to give the, religious exercise and voting rights now - what's next? Perhaps the world envisioned in the dystopian sci-fi series Continuum isn't too far off the mark after all.