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Thom Hartmann

. . . writer and activist. An award-winning author of more than a dozen books, Mr. Hartmann’s latest is  Unequal Protection:  The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights. He is the founder and former CEO of seven corporations that together have generated over a quarter-billion dollars in revenue, has been an international relief worker and a psychotherapist. He now hosts “The Thom Hartmann Radio Program.”

Excerpts3:37 secs

      Treating corporations as legal “persons” puts democracy at risk and threatens a return to feudalism, where the few own what the many need, according to Thom Hartmann. Ironically, Mr. Hartmann has discovered, the corporate claims to “personhood” which allow abuses to which he objects are based on a Supreme Court decision that never happened.  

Mr. Hartmann is deeply concerned about co
rporations that hide lies and misrepresentations behind the First Amendment and whose campaign contributions buy inappropriate access to elected officials.  For 100 years, he reports, state laws strictly controlled corporations, limiting corporate lifespans to 30 years, requiring that financial information be publicly accessible and restricting corporations to a single line of business.  Some states absolutely forbade corporations having access to politicians, jailing offending businessmen. That all changed in 1886.  

Mr. Hartmann became curious about the case commonly thought to give corporations the Constitutional rights of a person, the “Santa Clara County versus the Southern Pacific Railroad” decision of 1886. When he actually read it, he characterizes what he found as a deliberate misrepresentation made by an apparently corrupt court reporter. In short: the Supreme Court’s actual decision did NOT give corporations the Constitutional rights of people. However, the clerk’s commentary, known as “header notes,” said it did and this error, which Mr. Hartmann has reason to believe was intentional, eventually took on the force of law.

This decision-that-never-happened represented a reversal of America’s wary Founding Fathers’ intentions, Mr. Hartmann believes.  The tension between democracy and corporate interests in America goes back to the earliest colonial days, he says. The Founders had suffered at the hands of what Thomas Jefferson called “commercial monopolies” and had shaped the Constitution to protect citizens from corporations. In fact, Mr. Hartmann has convincing evidence that the American Revolution itself was a rebellion against corporate abuse in the form of the British East India Company. He further equates colonial Americans’ resistance to the East India Company at the “Boston Tea Party” with today’s headline-grabbing resistance to multinational “persons.”  

Mr. Hartmann would like to return the protection of the U.S. Constitution to “natural people.” He and others are working to have corporate “personhood” go the way of “Plessy v. Ferguson” (which legalized America’s racist “Jim Crow” laws and was finally overturned by “Brown v. Board of Education.” ) What drives these latter-day reformers is their belief that democracy is undermined by the handful of very powerful corporations who mis-use their standing as “persons.” Good things would result, he is confident, beginning with a renaissance of entrepreneurs who would flourish if abusive large corporations were controlled by elected officials not beholden to corporate masters.

It will take citizen action and judicial reform to return the Constitutional rights of “persons” to people, Mr. Hartmann predicts. But he is urged on by the ghosts of Jefferson, Madison and Mason saying, “I told you so.”

[This Program was recorded October 25, 2002, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Thom Hartmann summarizes for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the 1886 Supreme Court case which -- wrongly -- is cited to justify corporations being treated as people.  He recalls when American law and society constrained corporations.

Conversation 1 RealAudio8:41 secs

Conversation 2

Corporations’ claims to the right of free speech have profound implications, says Mr. Hartmann, offering examples. He describes the first 100 years in the United States when it was illegal for a corporation to participate in politics, its “books” had to be open, only one kind of business allowed at a time, with a lifespan not to exceed 30 years. Citing Thomas Jefferson’s call for a ban on corporate monopolies, Mr. Hartmann retraces how his discovered that the crucial “Santa Clara” case did NOT “make corporations persons.” He tells how an apparently corrupt official in the infamous Grant Administration deliberately misled lawyers and the public.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:54 secs

Conversation 3

Mr. Hartmann lays out the central role of the British East India Company in colonizing North America (“The Mayflower” carried a lot more than Puritans.) He elaborates, from the first days of British settlement to today. He offers a dramatically different view of the Boston Tea Party, citing a first person account, then characterizes the American Revolution as a rebellion against a huge multinational corporation coming in and wiping out local businesses. He describes the three historical oppressors opposed by America’s Founding Fathers, links multinationals across centuries and shows how the U.S. Constitution intended that local people control corporations.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:48 secs


Conversation 4

Jamestown’s commercial foundation is described. Thomas Jefferson is celebrated for his democratic ideals and his opposition to what he called pseudo-aristocrats in the form of commercial monopolies. Reiterating the importance of the ideal of democracy with current examples, Mr. Hartmann articulates a common obligation to hold, respect, maintain, understand and rebuild democracy.  He calls for resistance to a new feudalism he sees taking shape, where the new feudal lords are corporations not answerable to the people.  He expands on the importance of elective governments being responsive to people instead of to corporations driven solely by profit motives.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:55 secs

Conversation 5

Democracy is at risk, Mr. Hartmann believes, a result of a long-dead court clerk misrepresenting a Supreme Court decision. He wants people to take back the powers the Founding Fathers specifically intended for human beings, not for corporations. Mr. Hartmann says corporations’ political contributions -- strictly forbidden by state laws until the end of the 19th century -- buy them access to politicians, allowing them to exploit Constitutional protections intended for individuals. Mr. Hartmann recalls Mussolini’s definition of “fascist” -- combining the power of industry with the power of government -- then describes a growing movement to abolish corporate personhood.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:47 secs

Conversation 6

The entrepreneurial Mr. Hartmann insists he is not anti-corporate, then summarizes his objection to a handful of corporations who use the First Amendment to lie and hide crimes, manipulate politicians and control legislation.  He describes the small enterprise boom he thinks will follow removing corporations’ “personhood” protection.

Conversation 1 RealAudio4:22 secs



We applaud Thom Hartmann’s efforts in shining a light on some very dark places in UnEqual Protection. We also appreciate that this goes beyond description to point to actions we all might take in righting the wrongs that have resulted from corporate greed and misconduct.
Thanks to Louise Hartmann for her diligence in bringing Thom back to our Show.

Related Links:

Unequal Protection:  The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights is published by Rodale Press.

You can find more from Mr. Hartmann at his website and more about issues raised in Unequal Protection:  The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights at the website devoted to this subject.

The Thom Hartmann Radio Program” is available via many outlets.

In Corpocracy: How CEOs and the Business Roundtable Hijacked the World's Greatest Wealth Machine -- And How to Get It Back, Robert Monks shows the damage both to democracy and to capitalism of unsupervised executive power and points to the role of former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in establishing corporate "personhood."

In Democracy Matters Cornel West shows how we can build on the Greek, Jewish and African traditions to create an inclusive democracy. The full program will be here beginning Saturday, October 29. 

Susan Jacoby tells America’s history from the secular perspective.

Government of, by and for the People isn’t how it works today. It’s the “crony capitalist” who’re in charge according to Kevin Phillips.

An empire runs on its soldiers. In a very personal memoir, Alexandra Fuller shows how a soldier’s trauma is his nation’s trauma.

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