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home / ftcr / commentary

Nov 20, 2002

Patriotism has become the refuge of corporate scoundrels.

by Jamie Court - Executive Director - FTCR
 
Patriotism has become the refuge of corporate scoundrels.

This week Eli Lilly and other large American corporations hijacked the "Homeland Security" legislation to win the right to be free from legal accountability for their dangerous drugs, products and technologies. Corporate "Homeland Security" contractors also won the right to maintain off shore tax havens.

In the guise of providing cheaper terrorism insurance, Congress sent President Bush a bill throwing out state regulation of insurance premium increases for policies that provide terrorism coverage.

President Bush's energy bill, which professes to reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, will surreptitiously repeal a 65 year-old federal law, the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, that protects ratepayers from subsidizing corporate expansion, monopolistic abuses and shoddy accounting practices.

While individuals are losing liberties, such as protection from search and seizure under secret spy court rulings, corporations are exploiting the national crisis to gain new freedoms from accountability to government and the courts.

The corporate pork is the result of both the growing political power of corporations and the lack of public knowledge about their power plays. That corporations can manipulate markets was clear from documents released last week by federal regulators showing officials at two energy companies colluded to keep electric power off line in order to drive up prices. Discussing how corporations manipulate society, however, is far more taboo in a political process that corporations have come to capture.

The new corporate freedoms are, in fact, the spoils of a 2002 election in which, according to an analysis by one of America's largest corporate law firms, "business fully engaged in pivotal races" and corporate spending was "pivotal in close Republican victories." The November 6th analysis by Piper Rudnick, the world's 34th largest law firm, details how the GOP victories stemmed from corporations turning out their employees to vote by stuffing employee paychecks with voting materials, and from corporate funding for eleventh hour television advertising in key races.

Both sides of the aisle in this week's lame duck U.S. Senate, which voted 90 to 9 for the "Homeland Security" bill, obviously took notice of the real 2002 electoral victors: Corporate America.

Among Piper Rudnick's celebrated corporate efforts were the Business and Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) developing a "voter guide for 5,000 companies/20 million employees"; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce printing "tens of thousands of 'Vote! It's Your Business' inserts for employees' paycheck envelopes in states with key Senate and House races"; and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) inserting "voting information fliers into employees' paycheck envelopes."

In addition to citing how corporations spent $1.562 million in Colorado and $1 million in New Hampshire on last minute advertising to change control of the U.S. Senate, the law firm reported "Business groups [are] estimated to outspend traditional Democratic groups nearly 3 to 1 in 2002 House races."

The analysis also shows that recently enacted campaign finance reform laws will actually increase the political power of corporations. Discussing "new efforts to rechannel soft money outlets," Piper Rudnick states that spending on uncapped issue-related committees that talk about candidates' positions "give business control over soft money spending," and "business contributions through such organizations has been pivotal in key races. Soft money spending is likely to continue to increase."

For example, the GOP Senate victory in Colorado was attributed to television issue advertising paid for by "United Seniors Association/Pfizer" that showcased the Republican candidate Wayne Allard's support for helping seniors get a Medicare prescription drug coverage. In fact, the Democratic Senate passed a mandatory prescription benefit in 2001 and 2002 opposed by
Allard and Pfizer, who favor a voluntary benefit to be provided by insurers that can charge as much as they like.

Corporations' real power today is that their virtually unlimited resources allow them to be invisible while framing political and cultural issues strategically, because there is no limit or accountability for what they say and do.

Such corporate power requires the public to question everything they hear and from whom it comes. The populists left in government must also recognize the magnitude of corporate power's threat to democracy. They must push to limit and to make transparent the way corporations manipulate not merely markets, but society.

Corporations should not be allowed to turn workplaces into voting booths. The names of corporations that fund political issue advertising should have to be disclosed on every advertisement they fund, not simply phony committee names. A Corporate Impact Analysis, another CIA, should be published by corporations and sent to every investor enumerating the company's political activities. This agenda is the only refuge for true patriots.
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Jamie Court is executive director of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for
Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). jamie@consumerwatchdog.org





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