David Cobb, 2004 Green Party presidential candidate, speaks on corporate personhood

By Sean Ryan

David Cobb, an activist and former presidential candidate for the Green Party in the 2004 election, addressed the campus and larger community on Wednesday about corporate personhood, a legal conception that has evolved over the last 150 years to grant corporations many of the same rights afforded to human persons. The event, entitled “Challenging Corporate Personhood,” was sponsored by a variety of organizations both on- and off-campus, including Macalester MPIRG, the Macalester Legal Studies Program, Common Cause Minnesota, Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, and Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA).

“Do corporations as artificial people have the same rights as non-artificial people?” Cobb asked to open the discussion, beginning a presentation that described the rise of the modern transnational corporation and its effects on the American political system.

“Original corporations were specifically designed as public entities,” he said, giving the systems of aqueducts and roads put in place in Ancient Rome as examples.

“Then the transnational corporations of the 1400s and 1500s [such as the Royal African Company] were designed as instruments of colonial conquest. Today, transnational corporations and the unaccountable, unelectable CEOs that lead them are not merely exercising their rights, they are ruling us,” Cobb said. “They are making public decisions for us.”

Grounding his speech in the contrast between democracy – Greek for “people power” – and corporation – Latin for “body of people,” – Cobb consistently emphasized the negative consequences of corporations for the foundational elements of the American Constitution.

“Does anyone really believe today in any meaningful way that we have any kind of democratic control over these corporations?” he asked, referring to the influence of huge corporations on public policy, such as Monsanto and genetically-modified food. “When the unelected Supreme Court says in any number of court decisions that we should treat corporations as though they are legal persons with rights, it perverts the entire framework of democracy. a framework based on ‘We the People.'”

Throughout his address, Cobb consistently emphasized that he was not completely against the corporation as an institution.

“I’m not anti-corporation, I’m pro-democracy,” he said. “I want to see corporations succeed and thrive. There is a proper role for them in society but like any other institution, there must be certain protections.”

Cobb’s most recent endeavor – Move to Amend – is a movement seeking to amend the Constitution to “firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.” That organization was started in response to the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, a case Cobb describes as “true judicial activism” that allowed unlimited corporate funding for political speech.

“Judicial activism doesn’t just mean that’s what the Court does when I don’t like it-it’s an act of the judiciary when they overturn the decision of a legislative body,” Cobb described. “When it is legitimate [to do so]? When private individual rights are being violated-that’s when it’s appropriate to overturn laws.”

Cobb concluded by urging those listening to take action.

“I am putting all of my heart and soul into making the United States of America the democratic republic it was supposed to be,” he said, “and you can, too.