Corporations cannot vote. Corpor­ations cannot hold office. And it has long been our law that corporations have no rights to fund political candidates. That has been very good law. But the law restricting corporate campaign contributions has now been drawn into question and the U.S. Supreme Court is reconsidering it in Citizens United v. FEC. For an institution purportedly disavowing “judicial activism,” reconsideration of the settled issue would be a betrayal of the commitments so solemnly uttered by most of the justices as they sought confirmation by the Senate. And it would be a very harmful mistake without benign compensations to citizens who vote.

The private corporation is a 19th century idea. It has been an indispensable tool in conducting our market economy. But a corporation is not a citizen. It cannot be imprisoned for serious criminal offenses. It cannot lose more of its owners’ money than it has been entrusted with. Such features are very useful to business firms and charitable organizations owning property or making contracts. But no corporation has or can be given the motives of dutiful citizens. Those who manage business corporations have a firm commitment to their shareholders to maximize profits without delay. Officers of nonprofit corporations have other commitments, but their resources belong to the cause to which they are dedicated and to which their benefactors have committed their funds. A labor union is but the clearest example of a nonprofit organization with a commitment to a single cause assuring its one-dimensional view of issues to be resolved by a public election.

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