The paper "The Corporation Documentary Film" is a brilliant example of a movie review on business. The Corporation was released in 2003 and immediately garnered widespread critical acclaim. It won a Special Jury Award at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival in 2003 and the Audience Award at the Sundance Festival the next year. This is not surprising as it maintains dramatic tension throughout (often lacking in a documentary) and manages to add astonishing insight after astonishing insight culminating in a horrifying view of the modern corporation as psychopathic deviant motivated solely by greed for profits with no regard for real persons, society or the environment. It concludes having portrayed the modern corporation as transcendent of individuals, almost omnipotent and extremely dangerous.
Early in the film, the documentary identifies its eponymous star, “150 years ago, the business corporation was a relatively insignificant institution. Today, it is all-pervasive. Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, the corporation is today's dominant institution.” (The Corporation, 2003)The documentary goes on to trace the rise of the corporation, from business vehicle to legal definition as a person, and on to its current supra-person status as the dominant institution in modern American society.
The following discussion will highlight some of these insights and the remarkable and shocking facts that support them. It will then briefly survey the history of American campaign finance legislation and regulations as they pertain to corporations. Finally, the conclusions of this film will be considered in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission. (130 S.Ct. 876. 2010)
The Corporation points out that corporations are not merely economic entities considered by the law to be persons, they are more than persons as they are immortal according to Noam Chomsky. In the film Chomsky also notes that the motives for their behavior are legally defined: “These are a special kind of persons, which are designed by law, to be concerned only for their stockholders. And not, say, what is sometimes called their stakeholders, like the community or the workforce or whatever.” (The Corporation, 2003)
Robert Monks, a shareholder rights activist, describes the roots of the corporations' pathology in the documentary: “The great problem of having corporate citizens is that they aren't like the rest of us. As Baron Thurlow in England is supposed to have said, "They have no soul to save, and they have nobody to incarcerate." Corporations cannot be persuaded by ethical appeals or threatened with punishment for their misdeeds. Subsequently, the documentary's narrator summarizes this situation: “They are required, by law, to place the financial interests of their owners above competing interests. In fact, the corporation is legally bound to put its bottom line ahead of everything else, even the public good.” (The Corporation, 2003) Simply put, they are heartless, soulless, insatiable, beyond punishment or constraint and motivated solely by greed.
Historically, the United States has prohibited these avaricious, supra-human and extra-legal entities from contributing to political campaigns to limit their ability to subvert the political process to their single-minded pursuit of profit. In 1907 Congress banned corporate contributions to political campaigns flowing a scandal involving President Theodore Roosevelts campaign for the Presidency in 1904. That ruling has been the foundation of campaign finance law for a century.
The ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (2010) struck down a provision of the McCain–Feingold Act (2002) that prohibited all corporations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, and unions from broadcasting “electioneering communications.” It does not permit unlimited funding directly of political candidates and campaigns. However, provided a disclosure acknowledges the funds for the electioneering communication corporations are free to finance advertising that is directed at campaign issues. As a result, a corporation cannot donate to a political candidate but it can invest unlimited amounts of money in campaigning against health care reform.
Writing for National Public Radio, Deborah Tedford commented, “Supreme Court Rips Up Campaign Finance Laws” in the wake of the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission ruling. (Tedford, 2010) Hyperbolic though this headline might be, it is soundly based in fact. Weighing in on a campaign issue with a powerful and pervasive media campaign about a political issue during a campaign implicitly advances the cause of political candidates on the same side of the issue (and undermines the campaigns of those opposed). Albeit indirectly, the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission ruling significantly increases the influence over election campaigns that corporations can exercise.
Further after viewing the documentary The Corporation it is difficult to see this increase in corporate influence over elections as a positive development. It means that corporations can impose their asocial profit imperative on the public discourse that accompanies election campaigns and that they can ultimately influence the outcome of elections.