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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Penguins Aren't People

Author: Guest Writer/Saturday, January 21, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

by Conrad Anker

Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals.

Penguins, with their tuxedo like plumage and waddle, are a fine example of how we extend characteristics and behavior of humans to animals. The physical similarity makes the connection to animals is logical--- they are born, they die, and they share a brief time span on this planet. Obviously penguins, cute and adorable as they are, would not be granted personhood in the Bill of Rights. Less obvious are corporations and unions. Do groups of people speaking as corporations and unions have the same rights as individuals?

On the 21st of January 2012 the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission observers its second anniversary. In 2010, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow corporations and unions to support political candidates. The ruling gave corporations First Amendment rights, under free speech, to favor or oppose candidates as they choose. The central theme is that corporations are people. However, the question should be, “Does money equate to free speech?”

Ninety-nine years ago, Montana faced a similar dilemma with the powerful Copper Kings of Butte spending large sums of money to influence elections. The 1912 Montana Corrupt Practices Act specifically blocked political speech by corporations. The citizen initiative won on the ballot, as there was a clear need to balance the might of the, then, powerful Copper Kings, who were buying elections.

The elections of 2010 were the first campaign cycle corporate entities could freely favor or oppose candidates with unlimited and unrestricted spending. While a boon to Political Action Committees (PAC) and the special interest groups they represent, it was a step away from protecting the individual under the Bill of Rights. The Citizens United case will affect the upcoming 2012-election cycle. While more information is generally seen as a boon to an informed electorate, much of the advertising is negative and inflammatory. This widens the current divide along partisan lines, further fueling the dysfunctional gridlock Washington is currently experiencing.

On December 30, 2010 the Montana Supreme Court defended the Corrupt Practices Act. Chief Justice McGrath declared for the court, “Citizens United does not compel a conclusion that Montana’s law, prohibiting independent political expenditures by a corporation related to a candidate, is unconstitutional.” The core of this discussion hinges on ‘are corporations individuals’ and ‘can they spend unlimited money to influence elections’. Montana has defended the Corrupt Policies Act, which applies only to state elections. All federal elections are under the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.

Montana-Supreme-Court

Montana Supreme court

(credit: montana.gov)

Montana’s Senate election of 2012 between Sen. Jon Tester and challenger Dennis Rehburg is going to be front and center in the debate of corporations as citizens and corporate campaign influence. With a small electorate, relative to the national scale, and the chance to gain Senate majority by the Republican Party in 2012, this cycle is going to be rife with negative political advertising. Both parties are lining up to assail the other and persuade you, the voter, to cast your lot with their view. While the various public media stand to benefit from the increased financial resources going into the election, it will not necessarily make for a well-informed electorate.

Ninety-nine years ago the citizens of Montana stood up to corporate influence. We learned the lessons of how special interests, when backed by financial resources, can mute the individual to the collective detriment. While corporations and unions are essential to our society, from an economic and political standpoint, giving them the same rights as an individual does not benefit the individual. Corporate interests smother independent businesses, the under-represented, and the health of our democracy. Montana went through this a century ago and a lesson was learned us well.

Penguins are not people and neither are corporations.

Conrad Anker is a renowned mountaineer and environmentalist. This year, Conrad will participate in a special expedition to Mount Everest and document changes on the mountain over the past 60 years. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.

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