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Occupy New Hampshire Protester Takes Romney to Task for Declaring “Corporations Are People”

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney came under intense questioning at a campaign event in New Hampshire on Wednesday over his past comment that “corporations are people.” Mark Provost, an audience member who identified himself as a member of Occupy Boston and Occupy New Hampshire, said to Romney, “In the last two years, corporate profits have surged to record highs, directly at the expense of wages… Now, it seems that the U.S., it’s a great place to be a corporation then, but increasingly a desperate place to live and work. So would you refine your earlier statement from 'corporations are people' to 'corporations are abusive people'?” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And in a moment, we’re going to have a very interesting discussion about what’s going on in Indiana around worker rights. But I wanted to turn to one last clip. A day after narrowly winning the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney came under intense questioning in New Hampshire Wednesday by a member of Occupy Boston and Occupy New Hampshire over his past comment that corporations are people. The exchange took place at a televised town hall during which Senator John McCain endorsed Romney.

MARK PROVOST: You’ve said that corporations are people. But in the last two years, corporate profits have surged to record highs, directly at the expense of wages. That’s in a JPMorgan report. Now, it seems that the U.S., it’s a great place to be a corporation then, but increasingly a desperate place to live and work. So would you refine your earlier statement from “corporations are people” to “corporations are abusive people”? And would you be willing to reverse the policies of both the Obama administration and his predecessors around corporate-centric economic policies that only see wealth and income, you know, just go to the top, at record highs seemingly, every—faster every year? And the people in this country are in a permanent economic stagnation. So, I just want to see some color on that.

MITT ROMNEY: Where do you think corporations’ profit goes? When you hear that a corporation has profit, where does it go?

MARK PROVOST: [inaudible] profit, I mean, it depends—

MITT ROMNEY: Yeah, but where does it go?

MARK PROVOST: Well, it depends. If they retain it, there’s retained earnings, that means that they’re not spending it on—they’re not distributing it as dividends, and that means they’re not using it for capex, capital expenditure. You know, so they could just hoard it. That’s retained earnings. Right? But as profits, it goes to shareholders. So it goes to the 1 percent of Americans that own 90 percent of the stocks.

MITT ROMNEY: OK, not let’s get to facts, all right? There are two places they can go.

MARK PROVOST: Those are facts, Mr. Romney.

MITT ROMNEY: Hold on. It’s my turn. You’ve had your turn. Now it’s my turn, all right? First of all, you’re right it goes to dividends, all right, which is to the owners. But they’re not the 1 percent. All right? They’re not only the 1 percent. I’m sure, among the dividends, go to the 1 percent, but also go to the people who have pensions. All right? There’s a guy. You don’t—are you in the 1 percent? No. He’s got dividends and retirement plans, 401(k)s. They’re filled of the dividends that come out from corporations. That’s number one.

Number two, you are right, they can go into retained earnings, which then can be used for capital expenditures or growing the business or hiring people or working capital. When a business has profit, it can do good things: give it to the shareholders and grow the enterprise. And by the way, the only way it can hire people is if it grows the enterprise.

Now, corporations, they’re made up of people, and then, of course, the buildings that people work in. The buildings don’t pay taxes. The only people that—the only entities that pay taxes are people. And so, corporations are collections of people that are trying to have good jobs for themselves and promote the future. And so, corporations are made up of people, and the money goes to people, either to hire people or to pay shareholders. And so, they’re made up of people. So, somehow thinking that there’s something else out there that we could just grab money from and get taxes from, and everything could be better, that doesn’t involve people, well, they’re still people. And what I want to do is make America a place where those corporations that have that money decide to invest here.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mitt Romney answering a question from one of the people at the town hall about calling a corporation a person. Rob Weissman, we just have a minute. Can you respond?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: You know, that’s a lot more of a refined response than he gave before. But he’s wrong about what he’s saying. Corporations are entities, not just a collection of people. They are entities that have their own legal life, state-created legal life. And the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United said that those entities, not the people within them, but the entity itself, has the right to spend whatever it wants to influence the outcome of elections, that’s—to represent actual, real, live, living, breathing human beings.

I mean, that’s why we need a constitutional amendment to both overturn Citizens United and clear the way of this confusion that corporations have a claim on the constitutional rights that are intended to protect people, real people, like you and me. It’s why the resolutions in New York and California are so important, and it’s why people are mobilizing around the country on the second anniversary of the decision, January 21st, to really build the movement to call for a constitutional amendment. It’s going to take a long time, but we are going to win this thing. Folks who want more information can go to a lot of places, but among them is, which is our campaign to help drive forward the movement for a constitutional amendment.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. Rob Weissman is president of Public Citizen. Thanks to California Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski, joining us from Sacramento, and Melissa Mark-Viverito, a member of the New York City Council and co-sponsor of the resolution here in New York that passed yesterday.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to Indiana to a debate over worker rights. Stay with us.

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