San Rafael activist Jonathan Frieman has a new tactic in one of his longstanding pet causes: taking to the carpool lane to make the case against corporate personhood.
When Frieman drove solo in the carpool lane on Highway 101 in Novato early on Oct. 2, he did so with a clear plan. When he was pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer, Frieman claimed that he wasn’t alone: he had a pile of documents next to him that were part of a corporation he co-founded, the JoMiJo Foundation. Frieman, a 59-year-old political activist, said the state’s definition of a person includes a corporation.
The officer disagreed, and issued Frieman a $478 ticket. He will challenge his traffic violation in Marin County Superior Court on Monday, Jan. 7, at 3 p.m.
“The case is kind of complex. What I want [the judge] to do is say ‘no’ so that I can appeal,” he said, adding that he hopes to be able to appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
“If [the judge] says ‘yes’ then everybody can ride in the carpool lane,” he said, adding that this would be one carpool excuse that works. “There’s a long history of people trying to do everything they can to ride in the carpool — from a person in a hearse with a dead body to a pregnant woman.”
But the case isn’t about being able to ride in the lane. It’s about making a political statement.
Frieman, who made headlines in 2011 when he challenged the state Assembly candidacy of then-San Rafael City Councilman Marc Levine, said he had been trying to bring light to the “absurd” corporations-are-people definition for more than 10 years, putting himself as bait in the carpool lane roughly 25 times.
“I don’t want corporations to be defined as persons,” he said.
Though he said his pursuit of the corporate personhood issue wasn't sparked by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, that issue has been at the heart of the ongoing debate over campaign finance and the ruling case sparked an onslaught in corporate campaign contributions.
When asked to briefly describe the state’s rational for corporations counting as people, Frieman said he had to pack 160 years of jurisprudence, or the study and theory of law, into a few sentences.
He continued and said it was railroad corporations in the middle of the 1800s that originally pushed for corporations to be people. “Two hundred years ago corporations were just investment tools” and only lived a short period of time, roughly 10 to 15 years, Frieman said.
Back then, “[Corporations] couldn’t give money to charities and they couldn’t give money to politics,” he said. “All of that has changed.”