It is one of Ralph Nader's ongoing complaints about American corporations that they control the American government. A great many on the Left share this view and so badmouth corporate commerce endlessly. Business corporations are supposed to possess their enormous control over government by means of infusing huge sums of money into campaigns, as well as by doing all kinds of other very expensive favors for politicians. By getting very chummy with government, corporate managers secure for themselves lasting friends in most administrations and succeed at influencing legislation and regulation. Mr. Nader thinks that it is this process that accounts for most of the ills of our society.

And to a large extent he is right. Anytime some groups of citizens,especially those with tremendous resources, get up close and personal to politicians, the standard of equal protection under the law for all of us is bound to be violated throughout the society. That corporations are more

successful at this than, say, artists--although the latter do manage to obtain a pretty good share of support--is not mysterious. Business corporations are economic units brought about by millions of people coming together and entrusting their wealth to managers of businesses in the hope that they will prosper from this, which certainly is a good and unobjectionable idea. When these managers approach government so as to gain special favors, clearly the system has become corrupted. But who is to be blamed for this, who is doing something wrong?

Ordinarily if someone tries to bribe a judge or police officer and succeeds, the major fault lies with these officers of the law. They are sworn to remain impartial, fair, objective and are supposed to refuse point blank any efforts to undermine these character and professional

traits that are necessary to the performance of their duties. Sure, trying to bribe them is a bad thing but taking the bribe is far worse.

Suppose, however, that judges and police officers are officially on record inviting bribes from people in whose cases they are involved. Suppose the system, as in the case with those of many foreign countries, is frankly

and unabashedly open to pay-offs and influence peddling. Now those who approach officials in such a system with more or less successful efforts to gain favors certainly could not be blamed. It is the system that would be at fault, and indeed often is throughout the globe. And so it is with

corporate influence on the American legal and political system.

The original idea of the American founders was that governments are instituted among us to secure our rights. Yet certain provisions of the U.S.Constitution opened the door to distract government from this proper task--consider how the First Amendment talks of how we may all approach

government with our grievances, which has come to be interpreted as an invitation to lobby government for favors. The powers of governments, too, have departed from those just powers that a government may gain through the consent of the governed. Instead governments meddle in all sorts of

affairs, especially economic ones, by means of, say, the interstate commerce clause of Article I, Section 8 of the federal Constitution.

Once a system of law is so corrupted, it is like umpires or referees opening themselves to influence by players and racers in sports. If they get the message that it is all right to do so, it is rather curious to blame them for it. Yes, influencing umpires and referees corrupts the game but it is the system that makes this possible that's responsible, not those who take advantage of it. At some point refusing to do so can become suicidal.

That is just how many business corporations look at the American legal system: It openly invites them to exert as much influence as possible and not pitching in can actually amount to professional malpractice under the prevailing circumstances.

Ralph Nader & his pals on the Left ought to devote themselves not to business bashing but to reforming the government so it operates along lines we demand of honest judges and cops, to not play favorites and to have a system of laws that makes playing favorites outright impossible, illegal. But then, of course, he wouldn't have a change to lobby for his own pet projects either and that is what he really seems to want to do, not clean up the system.

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.