Corporate personhood is the idea that corporations are people and thus deserving of praise when they behave well, and a break when they 'mess up' (because it was probably just an accident anyway, geez, people are fallible and companies are just groups of people). Companies are, in fact, groups of people. They are not, however, people themselves. In fact they are legally required to behave very differently than people, which is why giving them the rights and benefits of people lends them an enormous amount of power. The most recent expansion of corporate personhood rights came on the heels of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which enabled corporations to donate as much as they want to political groups and campaigns without disclosing it.
Industries that use or have used it: All of them
- Herb Schmertz at Mobil was a huge fan of corporate personhood, and particularly of the extension of the First Amendment to corporations. According to research from sociologist Robert Brulle, Mobil was very active in one of the key Supreme Court cases to expand corporate First Amendment rights, long before Citizens United provided the nail in that particular coffin. That case was in 1978, First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. "I don’t think people really appreciate how big of a deal that was in shifting the rules of of speech in the public space for that," Brulle says. "Now, suddenly, corporations could use their budgets, which are much larger than individuals, to advocate their position in the public space. And as as a sociologist, I would say that what this did was it allowed for a systematic distortion of the public space in that it gives corporations basically a loudspeaker to amplify their voice above everybody else’s." In the wake of that decision, Schmertz began to dominate the pages of the New York Times' opinion section with weekly paid advertorials, and to put more and more of Mobil's budget into sponsored content.
- Corporate personhood also played into oil companies' funding of public television and nature documentaries throughout the 1980s. Schmertz, again, was a pioneer here, sponsoring Masterpiece Theatre as part of a strategy to make Mobil "the thinking man's gasoline," but Chevron and Exxon soon followed suit.
- Corporate Philanthropy Some people might make this its own separate technique, but we see it as deeply entertwined with Corporate Personhood. The very first publicist Ivy Lee used corporate philanthropy to help burnish the image of The Rockefellers way back when, and it's been laundering the money and reputations of the wealthy ever since (most recently: the Sackler Family).