I hope we shall crush in [its] birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
—Thomas Jefferson (letter to Tom Logan, 1816)
Supreme Court Judge Stevens:
“We have repeatedly sustained legislation aimed at ‘the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form.’” The court’s decision, Justice Stevens continued, “will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process.”
Justice Stevens emphasized how the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech—the basis for the court’s majority to rescind a hundred years of legislative limitations on election spending by corporations and unions—applies only to real individuals and groups of individuals. Corporations are “not natural persons, much less members of our political community. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process” (Stevens 2010).
Corporations in the Modern Era
The Commercial Transformation of Material Life and Culture