Transcript: Carl Mayer, attorney, corporate personhood, Mar 27 2006
Thom wrote "Unequal Protection" about corporate personhood. Carl Mayer is the author of several books and worked on the Nike v. Kasky case before the United States Supreme Court. The constitution. Judicial activism. How OSHA is not allowed to conduct surprise inspections for worker safety. How we structure the corporations in society. Corporations and politics. Presentments to Grand Juries. Federal chartering of corporations. Revoking a corporate charter.
Thom Hartmann interview with Carl Mayer, March 27 2006 on KPOJ
[Thom Hartmann] [We have in the studio with us ...] attorney Carl Meyer. Carl is going to be speaking tonight at 7 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church at South West 12th and Salmon in downtown Portland. Admission on a sliding scale 5 to 20 dollars, although I'm sure nobody will be turned away at the door for even lack of 5 bucks, but, you know, whatever you can do.
[Carl Mayer] Nobody except Dick Cheney.
[Thom Hartmann] I'd invite him in.
[Carl Mayer] All right, if he checks his guns at the door we'll have him.
[Thom Hartmann] There you go. Mayer runs the Mayer Law Group and is the author of several books including "Shakedown" and "Public Domain, Private Dominion". He also worked on the Nike v. Kasky case before the United States Supreme Court. Carl, the issue of corporate personhood; I have a bumper sticker on the back of my car, it says, "abolish corporate personhood", and very often people say, "What are you talking about?"
[Carl Mayer] Right.
[Thom Hartmann] "What is this?"
[Carl Mayer] Well, as you explained in your terrific book, "Unequal Protection", which everyone should read, is that...
[Thom Hartmann] Thank you.
[Carl Mayer] What you explained is that in effect the corporations in this country have hijacked the constitution in the sense that, the constitution, if you look at the preamble, was written for we the people and nowhere in the four corners of the document is the word corporation mentioned. But yet the Supreme Court has seen fit in an act of mega judicial activism to rule that corporations are persons under that constitution. And that has created no end of problems because it has allowed corporations to challenge virtually every effort by citizens and government to rein in some of their excessive behavior. They, there's a whole movement in this country now that's called the "business civil liberties movement" which is, I don't know who the poster boy for that movement would be, maybe Ken Lay, or, I don't know, it may be...
[Thom Hartmann] I think John Roberts. Actually, our current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is big into this stuff. I mean, he was a million dollar a year corporate lawyer before he was appointed to the Supreme Court and one of his jobs was to defend the human rights of corporations. And he's an outspoken proponent of this stuff.
[Carl Mayer] Yeah, well, maybe it's time for another contest there; who's the, who should be the leader of the business civil liberties movement in the United States.
[Thom Hartmann] It's a tragedy, it really is.
[Carl Mayer] And the thing that I find most disturbing about it is that right wing, or corporate defenders, who ordinarily are aghast when the justices engage in what they call judicial activism, meaning reading something into the constitution that isn't there, they're absolutely silent in what is one of the greatest mega judicial activist opinions of all time which simply accorded corporations the status, the same status virtually that you and I have under the constitution.
[Thom Hartmann] Right. Access to the bill of rights. Access to free speech. Access to privacy rights. It's... I think it's so ironic that, it was the Dow Chemicals case as I recall, back in the 1980s where the EPA showed up and there was a whistleblower, you know, the EPA showed up and said "we understand you've got an illegal emission here, we're here to inspect" and they said, "you can't come in". And the guy says, "why?", you know the EPA inspector, and they say, "well, because we're a person, we have fourth amendment rights. You know we, Dow Chemical, we're a person". And so the EPA hired a small plane and they flew over the top of the factory and they documented, they took photographs of the illegal emission and before they could take that to court, Dow sued them, took that all the way to the Supreme Court, and actually won! And so today, right now if you work for not just Dow, any corporation, well right here. Here I am, I'm working for Clear Channel. As soon as I walk in the door I surrender my first amendment rights to free speech. I surrender my fourth amendment rights to privacy. I mean, my employer doesn't but they could drug test me. They could ask for bodily fluids, they could listen in on my telephone conversations, they could listen in on my keyboard, you know, strokes and stuff. As I say, they don't here, thank God. But, you know, there are employers in this city who do that. And yet that corporation, or any corporation, all the time that they are doing that asserts that they have privacy rights.
[Carl Mayer] Yeah, and it's gone beyond that now in that individuals are now subject to warrantless wire taps by the federal government but corporations have defended against warrantless searches by asserting their fourth amendment rights, and the most...
[Thom Hartmann] Especially if they make voting machines.
[Carl Mayer] That's right. But the most egregious area is for surprise inspections that OSHA would conduct for worker safety. They are not permitted under the doctrine of corporate personhood to engage in surprise health and safety inspections because there are no warrantless searches under the fourth amendment as asserted by corporations. So, in that regard you might say that corporations even have a more expansive number of legal protections around them than humans. Which is a frightening thing because these companies are chartered by us as citizens through the State. They are supposed to be our servants, not our masters and the opposite is occurring.
[Thom Hartmann] Right. Plus they can live forever, they don't need fresh air to breathe, they don't need pure water to drink, they don't have to worry about disease, you know, on and on the list goes. They can accumulate wealth forever without it ever having to go through probate so you can't control their size outside of antitrust laws which Reagan chose not to, essentially to stop enforcing. Jimmy Carter breaking up AT&T was the last serious antitrust enforcement action; there's been nothing since. In fact, AT&T is reforming itself. So, we're talking with Carl Mayer. He is an attorney and populist crusader. Former Ralph Nader campaign manager, in fact. You've been involved in a whole bunch of things, and taking on corporate personhood. He's going to be speaking tonight at 7pm at the First Unitarian Church at 12th and Salmon in downtown Portland. And Carl, what's to be done?
[Carl Mayer] Good question. I'm going to offer some suggestions tonight. I think what we really have to do is get more fundamental about the way we structure the corporations in society. So, what I'm going to be proposing to people this evening is a package of re-ordering the corporations so that they are a servant; no longer a master. So I think what we need to do is go right into the charter of the corporation. It used to be, at the beginning of the Republic, corporations were chartered for a very limited number of years. They were chartered for 5 years, they were chartered for one special purpose like building a bank or building a canal. It's not necessary that we get that restrictive, but I think we need to build into their charter actually things that corporations cannot do. For example, I think the first commandment of any corporate charter should be, in return for getting this charter from the people, the corporation shall not seek, nor shall it receive, any corporate welfare, hand outs, bailouts, subsidies. These are the fattest welfare kings. The CEOs and their corporations are the fattest welfare kings in the history of the planet. And too often these same companies, who are always touting the free market, are going to Washington, or they are going to the State capitol here or around the country and they are looking for bailouts. So all we are saying is, if you're going to get the charter from the people, you can't seek these subsidies.
[Thom Hartmann] Yeah.
[Carl Mayer] The second thing, the second suggestion I have, is put right into the charter, that corporations have to get out of politics. If they get a charter they can't participate in the political process. Because Business Week magazine, they did a front page story in the year 2000. The front page was, 'does business have too much power in America?' The answer throughout the magazine was, "yes, yes, yes" and the editorial - this is Business Week, not exactly Karl Marx - the editorial said, 'corporations should get out of politics'. Well, we've been trying to get them out for a while. I think one of the ways that we can is to insert it in the charter. So those are a couple of the ideas that I'll be discussing this evening.
[Carl Mayer] I have another idea I'm cooking up as a lawyer. If you read the fifth amendment to the constitution there is a provision in there which talks about presentments to Grand Juries, which is an alternative to an indictment. And historically in this country a presentment was when citizens went directly before the Grand Jury. I think that it's time that we bring cases in this country where citizens present evidence of corporate crime. And as you have discussed on your show so often, as you were discussing this morning, war profiteering is an enormous problem in this current war. Citizens under 5th amendment presentments can go directly to a Grand Jury. Certain States in this country have the law on the books that allows citizens to go directly to a Grand Jury to present evidence of a corporate crime. Other States do not. I'm bringing in a test case in the 3rd circuit of the United States to see whether you can do it to a federal Grand Jury. I put in some evidence in the State of New Jersey about a corporation, the name was Commerce Bank, attempting to...
[Thom Hartmann] The German bank?
[Carl Mayer] No, no, no, it's a regional bank although it's the fastest growing bank in the United States. It's New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia. I put in evidence to a Grand Jury there that they were systematically bribing politicians in the State of New Jersey. I know that never happens in other States, but in New Jersey it seems to happen with some fair degree of frequency. So I put in the evidence to the Grand Jury in to a federal judge and the U.S. attorney in New Jersey went ballistic and asserted that no citizen has a right to do this, even though the word presentment is particularly used in the constitution. And so we brought an action in the U.S. district court. It didn't prevail there, and its now up on appeal in the 3rd circuit.
[Thom Hartmann] Interesting.
[Carl Mayer] So, I'll keep you updated. We're working on the citizen toolbox here.
[Thom Hartmann] Now, you're talking about changing corporate charters, and corporate charters prior to the chartermongering era, you know, the late 1880s, 1890s, when basically John Rockefeller said to Ohio, after Ohio said, "what you're doing here is illegal", he said, "OK, cool, I'll do it some place else. What State is willing to change their laws?" and New Jersey said, "well, we'll change our laws", and New York said, "well, we'll make it even easier", and Connecticut said, "we'll make it even easier". Finally, Delaware ended up winning the competition, which is why most of the Fortune 500 is chartered in Delaware. But basically all the States got into this competition to see who could make it easiest for corporations. They're doing that again, now. Corporations are playing States off one another; who's going to give us the biggest tax breaks, who's going to give us the most free land, who's going to give us, you know, bla de bla de bla. How do you go about changing the charters of corporations, and is this something that can be done at the State level as well as at the federal level?
[Carl Mayer] Well, I think you could do it at the federal level. There's no reason you couldn't have federal chartering of corporations and that's what I think ultimately we need. We need the federal chartering. We might even need...
[Thom Hartmann] Corporations right now are always chartered at the State level.
[Carl Mayer] That's correct.
[Thom Hartmann] With a few exceptions like Amtrak and Fannie Mae. And, but if you charter corporations at the federal level, then isn't there a tremendous vulnerability to corruption? I mean, imagine if the current Congress, for example, well, here they are. Imagine if they were in power, I started to say. And, you know, and for example your laws were in there...
[Carl Mayer] Yeah.
[Thom Hartmann] They'd just change them! They'd just say, "yeah, corporations, they can do anything they want".
[Carl Mayer] Well, none of this will...
[Thom Hartmann] Whereas at least at a State by State level you've got people that are more accountable to their citizens.
[Carl Mayer] Well, not in my State. Not in New Jersey.
[Thom Hartmann] What's...? Not in New Jersey.
[Carl Mayer] Not in New Jersey, but maybe in...
[Thom Hartmann] Maybe here in Oregon, yeah.
[Carl Mayer] Yeah, I'm going to be talking about that tonight at the First Union Church.
[Thom Hartmann] OK.
[Carl Mayer] Is how often at the State level the State legislature's been captured too. But none of this...
[Thom Hartmann] And how they do that.
[Carl Mayer] All of this presupposes that the citizens reach a point in this country where they say, "enough".
[Thom Hartmann] Yeah.
[Carl Mayer] "We're not going to see our democracy trod upon any longer by corporations". And there are States where you have, I believe in Oregon you have initiative and referendum, which we don't have back in New Jersey, for example.
[Thom Hartmann] Well, I think we're damn close to it. Carl, we're way past our here time on this. I've got a question, a caller with a quick question for you, and then we've got to wrap it up. Casey in Portland, you're live with Carl Mayer.
[Casey in Portland] Ah, good morning gentlemen. My question is I heard you speak last week, I believe, on the radio and you referred to States being able to perhaps revoke a corporate charter due to fraudulent behavior, and I wanted to address whether or not a State could revoke it based upon bad behavior, say, in another State?
[Thom Hartmann] Good question.
[Carl Mayer] Ah, that is a very good question. It depends on the particular State statute. In New York, for example, I work for the New York State Attorney General, we actually did revoke the charter of some non profit corporations that were acting as front groups for the tobacco industry and in promoting their litigation strategy. In New York there's no requirement in the statute that the fraudulent acts occur within the State and in fact even if there were you can often revoke the license of the corporation to operate in your State if you find evidence of improprieties or persistent fraud in other States.
[Thom Hartmann] Yeah. That's fascinating. Carl Mayer, if you want to learn up more, show up tonight. 7 O'clock. First Unitarian Church SW 12th and Salmon in downtown Portland. Carl, thanks so much for being with us.
[Carl Mayer] Oh, thank you Thom, you're a breath of fresh air.
[Thom Hartmann] Is there a quick web site, by the way, where there's more information on you and what you're doing?
[Carl Mayer] newjerseyuntouchables.blogspot.com
[Thom Hartmann] OK Carl, that sounds interesting. Carl Mayer, he's with us today.