There has been a great deal of hair-pulling (not at all unjustified) about the Citizens United ruling. I believe our ultimate goal is to remove “personhood” from the list of attributes we use to describe groups organized around their desire for profit while receiving limited liability for responsibility for the crimes intentionally committed for said profit. But that is a long-term goal not easily achieved without a constitutional amendment, according to some experts (because any statute-level change would probably be struck down by the courts which have proven as captive to business as Congress). So, we have to hit them in their beloved “market”.
In order to create a standard of training and professionalism in certain disciplines, the government creates licensing requirements for many classes of work, from hair dresser to disc jockey to toxic waste disposal expert and beyond. Often, when a person who holds one of these licenses is convicted of a felony, the government disqualifies that person from having ANY professional license (seemingly as an additional punishment for the offense—even when the offense was not related to the license or profession).
Since our government has no difficulty in removing the livelihoods of people who, despite their criminal behavior, are qualified to work, we should insist the government take the same standard with corporations. The policy decisions on punishing corporations aren’t as clear-cut as for people—you cannot incarcerate a corporation. And the fines-for-crimes methodology has proven impotent because, even when fines are imposed, they amount to less than what the corporate felon made in commission of its crimes: Crime does pay for them.
We need to level the playing field for profit-extracting society-wrecking crimes committed by corporations. There is a way we can do this that is beyond the reach of the courts. Outside of the standards of contract law, courts have no power over how—or with whom—governments contract. We should petition governments at all levels to enact laws which prevent government agencies from contracting with a corporation found (or pled) guilty to a felony, regardless of where or in what capacity that felony took place—it was a crime and the corporation should lose its privilege to contract with the entities charged with protecting the society in which they operate.
On its face there seems to be some glaring problems with this, right? Local governments don’t really have that much power and sometimes have little choice because of the monopoly many providers have (i.e. the dump truck they use requires parts made only by GM) and states’ Medicaid prescription drug payments have to go to the organized crime syndicate known as the pharmaceutical industry. Yes, these are problems that the local and state level can’t address because of the size of many of the effective monopolies doing business in this country. But it would still open the doors for competition to felony-corporations at those levels for at least some products and services.
The more important impact, of course, would come at the Federal level. If the Federal government were to enact this measure, billions would stop flowing to corporate recidivists. You may be wondering, “what about patents on fighter jet engines and Viagra? The government would cease to function if it couldn’t shell out money for those!” You’re right, without patented technologies, many things that we rely on—and pay for—as a society wouldn’t work as well, or at all. But there is a solution: Eminent Domain!
Patents are nothing more than rights to intellectual property. If we decide we will no longer do business with a corporate felon that owns a patent we need in order to function as a society, we can pay a fair value for the patent and seize it. It wouldn’t do to just change sales-vendors if the new vendor had to go back and buy the product from the felon. So we seize the patent, and pay a price that is in line with what it would be worth to the company given that it can no longer sell its product to the government. In some cases, the government is the only purchaser (i.e. top secret fighter jet engines), so we could get that at a real bargain! After completion of the forced sale, the appropriate agencies would then establish a manufacturing/licensing agreement with a non-felon company.
This policy would give a huge incentive to corporate boards to ensure that the day-to-day management is working within the limit and spirit of the laws we have created to regulate our society. Business needs a functioning rule of law as much as the people do, and they must be just as subject to it. The equitable application of the rule of law—punishing corporate offenders in a meaningful way to deter future crimes and ensure they don’t profit from them—is the best way to start.