Corporations deserve to have some rights

Here are two statements that are both true: Corporations are not people. Corporations should have rights.

In the public discourse, a wall has been erected whereby either corporations can be regulated without limit by government, or they must be declared “people” with the same rights as you or I. This is a false dichotomy that we should all reject.

Associations, such as corporations, unions, non-profits, clubs and even marriages, should have some rights. Oftentimes this isn’t obvious. Citizens United found that associations have a First Amendment right to spend money expressing their political opinions independently of candidate campaigns. People tend to think this is a bad thing; after all, don’t big corporations have enough power in our society? But those corporations’ rights are the same ones used by newspapers like The Buffalo News and other media corporations, which are vital for citizens’ understanding of what’s happening in politics. Few people want to take away the right of the New York Times to report on government, but clearly it’s a corporation that spends vast sums of money promoting speech that impacts politics.

Other rights held by associations – like their right to keep customers’ information private from government – also have clear benefits for citizens.

It’s important to remember that having some rights isn’t the same as having equal rights. Corporations can’t vote, non-profits can’t run for office, unions can’t serve on juries, and so on. The rights we give to associations are there to benefit all of us, whether we realize it or not. We don’t have to choose between “rights are for people, not corporations” and “corporations are people.” Both are wrong. Corporations are not people, but they should have rights.

Luke Wachob