By Jamie Raskin. Mr. Raskin is a Maryland State Senator, a constitutional law professor at American University, and a Senior Fellow at People for the American Way. He introduced SB 690, which became in April 2010 the first Benefit Corporation law in America. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium marking the one-year anniversary of the landmark decision Citizens United v. FEC.
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that that makes the existing model obsolete. -- Buckminster Fuller
The modern American corporation is bound by law to pursue a single objective in everything it does: increasing company profit. If it deviates from profit maximization, shareholders can bring the house down in a derivative suit.
This relentless profit motivation works wonders financially but is dangerous to the common good. For what is profitable for one company may not be beneficial for everyone. This is why popular forces in America have always tried to build regulatory fences around corporations to contain the damage of their "externalities," such as catastrophic oil spills in the ocean, collapsing oil mines that kill the parents of small children, consumer fraud, sickening peanut butter and food-borne diseases, economic monopolies, mortgage scams, stock market rip-offs, economic crashes and so on.
Perhaps the most important fence hemming in corporate power has been the ban on corporate political spending. This is the first line of defense for popular democracy because it allows our representative institutions sufficient freedom from corporate influence to set up the other fences that we need. To get meaningful food and drug safety laws, consumer protection laws, workplace equity laws, and clean water laws, we need campaign finance laws that permit representatives in Congress and the state legislatures to be elected in a way that is free of corporate control and manipulation.
The Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC demolished our first line of defense against corporate control of our representative institutions. Five corporate-minded justices -- let's call them "Justices United" -- not only tore down the fence guarding popular democracy but seriously trashed the fence protecting the "free market," which is democracy's next-door neighbor.