Acton Institute Powerblog

‘The Holy War on Corporate Politicking’

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Acton’s president and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico, recently wrote a piece for Real Clear Religion about corporations and social justice activism. He warns that the religious left’s attempts to stifle free speech in corporate boardrooms  would certainly negatively impact our political life.

Every annual meeting season, we watch as a small group of activist groups on the left such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility submit proxy resolutions that demand disclosures of corporate public policy expenditures. This is done, these groups claim, in furtherance of a more “just and sustainable world.” In fact, such resolutions are designed to first bully corporations into disclosing lobbying activities and then promptly turn the tables by conducting aggressive campaigns in the press to shame them.

But the religious underpinnings for such arguments are spurious. The argument always goes that corporations have money and the poor and disadvantaged (always “disenfranchised” from the political process) do not. Therefore, according to this logic, it follows that it’s unfair that corporations are allowed to make public policy expenditures to unduly influence the political process. Curiously, opponents of such spending are often themselves corporate entities (albeit non-profit entities) that spend large sums of money to voice their own opinions.

The religious left should heed the counsel of William Cavanaugh, a senior research professor at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. In his white paper for Auburn Seminary’s very own critique of corporate political spending, Cavanaugh identifies Biblical precedents for corporate personhood. Adam and Christ, he points out, incorporate the whole human race. This, he says, shows that personhood properly understood cannot be limited to the individual. Likewise, writes Cavanaugh, “Paul’s image of the Church as the body of Christ (e.g. I Corinthians 12) is so powerful; our salvation is our reunification into the corporate person of Christ.”

Civil society, says Cavanaugh, requires us all to speak “with united voices. Unions, families, churches, and other organizations of people must remain strong in order to resist the reduction of public life to a binary of the state on the one hand and individuals on the other.” And the same holds for businesses, especially as the power of government regulatory agencies grows exponentially and leftist billionaires like the Steyer brothers increasingly exercise their own First Amendment rights.

Read all of ‘The Holy War on Corporate Politicking’ at Real Clear Religion.

Sarah Stanley


  • William Cavanaugh

    Fr. Sirico’s use of my article gets it only half right. After defending the idea of corporate personhood, I go on to explain why all corporate persons are not the same, and why the business corporation is an especially dangerous type. Here is more of what I wrote in the full Auburn paper:

    “In theory, all kinds of individuals and groups—wealthy individuals, poor individuals, business corporations, unions—have the same rights to free speech. In reality, the voices of the wealthy crowd out the voices of the poor, and the voices of business corporations dwarf those of labor unions. The gap between the rich and the poor has grown dramatically in the last few decades, at the same time that union membership has shrunk to its lowest level since the Great Depression.

    In addition to having access to more money, business corporations are also fundamentally different types of corporate persons than unions and other associations. A union is a group of workers united by common interest; a business corporation is a group of stockholders, managers, and workers whose interests may be diametrically opposed to each other. Managers, for example, may want to keep workers’ wages low in order to increase profits and reward the interests of stockholders. Speech from a business corporation often uses the resources generated in part by the workers to oppose the workers’ interests, because the managers and stockholders—and not the workers—decide what political speech to support.”

    I go into all of this at much greater length in my chapter “Are Corporations People? The Corporate Form and the Body of Christ” in the volume Christian Political Witness, ed. George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee.

    • Vigilant2

      ” … voices of business corporations dwarf those of labor unions.” I’d sure like to see the proof of that assertion. It does not pan out ‘down here’ at citizen level.