In discussions about money and politics in America, corporations and unions are often mentioned in the same breath. Many people seem to feel that corporations are largely conservative or Republican supporters, and unions are assumed to be liberal or Democratic supporters. So the reason for mentioning them in the same breath is to suggest that each party’s supporters should be treated the same when it comes to granting or denying the right to participate in elections. Republicans get corporate support, Democrats get union support, and everything is fair. Right?
For the moment, let’s ignore the question of whether corporations really do support conservatives and/or Republicans, and vice versa for unions. That’s a whole discussion by itself. Instead, let’s look at the two players here, corporations and unions, from the perspective of Democracy. Who are they? Should they be allowed to participate in elections in a Democracy?
Corporations are businesses that are owned by both businesses and people who buy shares. The money that they pay for their shares goes to help finance the business. Their only goal is profit for the shareholders. Shareholders are not personally liable for the debts of the corporation, which has led to corporations being treated under the law as “individuals” who pay their own taxes. Recently, corporations have also been granted the right of unlimited financial participation in US elections, although they have not yet been granted the right to vote (see Citizens United v US).
One key point here is that shareholders can be US citizens, or they can be foreign citizens, foreign businesses, or even foreign governments, and in practice the percentage of US corporations that include foreign shareholders is very high.
So when we granted corporations the right of unlimited financial participation in US elections, we were also granting foreign citizens, foreign businesses, or even foreign governments unlimited financial participation in US elections. Interesting idea.
What about unions? Unions are groups of people who form their union in order to work together for their own benefit. There are employee unions, consumer unions, sports unions, taxpayer unions, student unions, and even credit unions. Unions are run democratically, voting for officers and major decisions. Union members are all human beings, and nearly all members of US unions are US citizens. Unions were also granted the right of unlimited financial participation in US elections, but in some sense since their members are citizens they already had that right.
The word Democracy means the rule of the people, and the US Constitution begins “We The People” for a reason. Financial participation in elections is a substantial and important part of the democratic process. Are groups of owners seeking profit, including foreigners (corporations), really equivalent to groups of citizens seeking mutual benefit (unions)?