July 21, 2015 – “Can Citizens’ Organizations Be Sued by Corporations Simply for Doing Their Job? Yes They Can!”

Paul Cienfuegos’ July 21st, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News

(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes.)

Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.

The scale at which large corporations are now able to – and legally allowed to force their demands on government and public policy is truly astounding. And their legal authority to do so comes directly from 195 years of Supreme Court decisions, granting them one new constitutionally protected right after another. I lead workshops and give talks all over the United States on this topic, so this story rarely surprises me anymore. But I have been absolutely shocked these past few months as I’ve watched the unfolding of a brand new and very creative and gutsy strategy that corporations are now using – this time to silence effective advocacy groups that organize and educate the public in opposition to various aspects of corporate power.

The group Public Citizen is one of our oldest and most respected citizens’ organizations, originally founded by Ralph Nader in 1971. It is being sued by Murray Energy Corporation, the largest underground coal mining company in the US. The lawsuit claims that Public Citizen “invaded its privacy” and caused it “mental anguish and emotional distress”. What did Public Citizen do to bring on this corporate lawsuit? Last year, Public Citizen ran radio ads pointing out Murray Energy Corporation’s opposition to worker safety and clean air protections. That’s all they did. They’re being sued for running radio ads. Public Citizen has tried to get this ridiculous lawsuit dismissed, because of course a corporate business entity is incapable of “mental anguish and emotional distress” simply because it doesn’t exist in the material world. But the judge disagreed, and now Public Citizen is attempting to raise perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars simply to defend itself in court against ridiculous corporate accusations that are being put forward simply to destroy the capacity of an effective advocacy group.

If the staff of an advocacy group has to worry about being sued simply because they’re being effective in the arena of public opinion, imagine how this is going to chill any future political organizing efforts in this country. “Oooo, we better not launch an educational campaign about genetically modified foods, because Monsanto Corporation might sue us for millions of dollars, claiming that the corporation itself is suffering from ‘mental anguish and emotional distress’ due to our educational campaign. It’s just not worth the risk!”

The only reason that Murray Energy Corporation is even allowed to sue Public Citizen in the first place is that “it” – the corporation – the legal fiction that doesn’t even exist in the material world – “it” has constitutional rights, thanks to our Supreme Court. We cannot currently pass laws that would prohibit corporate money from influencing elections because that would violate the corporation’s protected free speech First Amendment Rights. Corporations possess property rights, privacy rights, rights against search and seizure, right to a jury trial, right of religious freedom. And now, if Murray Energy Corporation wins its case against Public Citizen, yet another new corporate constitutional “right” will be added to this already long list – the right of a corporation to be free from “mental anguish and emotional distress”.

How much longer will We the People keep fighting one corporate outrage at a time, rather than hacking at the root of the problem – corporate constitutional so-called “rights”? Our lives would be so much easier, so much safer, so much more peaceful and ethical and just, if we shifted our citizen activism towards dismantling this absolutely ridiculous structure of law that gives corporations more rights than us. 200 communities in nine states have now done just this thing – they’ve passed locally enforceable laws that strip corporations of their rights and ban specific harmful corporate activities.

Just imagine: If Pembina Pipeline Corporation didn’t have constitutional “rights”, it could not run full-page propaganda ads telling us why a propane terminal in Portland is the best thing since sliced bread. Why? Because it is utilizing its Supreme Court granted First Amendment right to speak to us.

Just imagine: If Nestle Corporation didn’t have constitutional “rights”, it could not propose to vacuum up millions of gallons of pure spring water from Cascade Locks in the Columbia Gorge. Why? Because it is utilizing its Supreme Court granted commerce clause and property rights to push for approval of its application.

We the People can and must do better than this. It is time for our single-issue activist groups to fundamentally shift gears and go on the offensive, by helping to pass local laws that end the corporate “rights” outrage once and for all – first at the local level, then at the state level, and ultimately at the federal level. You can join our Portland group at Community Rights PDX. We are just weeks from launching our first-ever citywide ballot initiative campaign. I’ll be sharing details about it soon.

You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.

You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. You can sign up for my newsletter at PaulCienfuegos.com. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for.

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