Murray Hill is planning to run in the Republican primary for Maryland's 8th Congressional District, which would be pretty unremarkable national news but for the fact that Murray Hill is not, well, actually a man named Murray Hill.
Rather, he — er, it — is a corporation: Murray Hill Inc., a progressive communications firm based outside the district in Maryland that works mainly with nonprofits. The company last week threw its name into a race previously reserved for people because, as its campaign slogan says, "corporations are people too!"
Or so many critics of the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision now fear. The ruling, announced by the court two weeks ago, in effect removes limits on corporate campaign contributions, equating the restrictions to censorship that violates the First Amendment. Corporations, the 5-4 decision declared, have a free-speech right to fund political advertising.
This logic only holds, according to its critics, if you believe money is speech and corporations are people (and that the founders who wrote the Constitution intended it that way).
Beyond concerns over whether unlimited corporate contributions are good for American democracy or not (many think they're good for the cash-strapped media industry), the decision touches a nerve between constitutional law professors and laymen over the concept of "corporate personhood" — the idea that corporations have some, if not all, of the same rights as people.
Corporations aren't expressly mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, but over the last 120 years, they've been granted individual-like rights to do certain things — create contracts, file lawsuits — as a matter of business logistics. Affirming additional rights under the First Amendment pushes the concept to what Murray Hill Inc. suggests (to further anthropomorphize) are comic heights.
"Until now," the company declared in its press release, "corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middleman and run for office ourselves."
Couching its candidacy as a matter of inevitable barrier-breaking, the company adds: "We're saying to Wal-Mart, AIG and Pfizer, if not you, who? If not now, when?"
Murray Hill has spun the send-up into an elaborate multimedia campaign. The first campaign ad (44,000-plus views) is up on Youtube.
"You start extending personhood, and I don't honestly know where you stop," said Eric Hensal, who is speaking - and filling out paperwork - for the corporation candidate as its "designated human." "What we decided to do was we felt the American public deserved an opportunity to see this logic played out to its inevitable conclusion."
The filing deadline for the race isn't until July, so as a first step, Hensal has applied — by mail — to register Murray Hill Inc. to vote in Maryland. If he gets a voter registration card back in the mail, well, stranger things have happened.
That leaves more time for the candidate to flesh out a platform that, according to its designated human, will mostly focus on what all corporations want: privatizing gain and socializing risk.
In the meantime, a Russian TV station wanted to talk about the candidacy, as have a half-dozen talk radio shows in America, Alan Colmes on Fox News radio and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.
As with the best political skits on Comedy Central, it's not clear if everyone gets the joke — or that the issue behind the joke is not really a joke at all.
"I do think sometimes it's hard to tell from our posts," Hensal said, "whether people are seriously supporting us or not, what they think or don't think."
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