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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Pledge of Corporate Allegiance?



The Pledge of Corporate Allegiance?

Leaks reveal that corporate front group ALEC may ask for loyalty oaths from legislators.

BY Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

ALEC met again last week. Maybe it adopted the loyalty oath then. Again, the public doesn’t know because ALEC excluded reporters and citizens from its work sessions.

Witch hunter Joseph McCarthy would be proud of ALEC. So proud! Like McCarthy, the shadowy corporate lobby group wants oaths of allegiance.

McCarthy demanded loyalty pledges to the United States. ALEC, by contrast, wants its lawmaker members to vow first allegiance to ALEC.

This summer, ALEC (the sham that calls itself the American Legislative Exchange Council) proposed asking the legislators it appoints as state directors to raise their right wings and swear: “I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first.”

ALEC first. Before the lawmaker’s constituents. Before the interests of the lawmaker’s state. Before the constitution of the United States. ALEC’s proposal would require lawmakers to forsake their oaths of office and swear fidelity instead to the organization that wines, dines, indulges and indoctrinates them with buckets full of corporate cash. The idea of an ALEC loyalty oath clarifies the allegiance of the 1,810 state legislators that ALEC claims as members. They see their primary duty as serving corporations, specifically the corporations that give millions to ALEC.

ALEC claims it didn’t adopt the loyalty oath. But citizens have no way of knowing if that’s true because ALEC’s meetings are clandestine affairs, no reporters or citizens allowedDocuments leaked to The Guardian reveal that ALEC proposed the oath at its August meeting. It’s contained in a massive list of duties for state legislative coordinators, a list so long that it’s not clear when coordinators would have time to work for the citizens of their state, a list complete with an agreement signature sheet where the coordinator would swear to complete the work for ALEC.

  ALEC (All Legislation Enhancing Corporations) is a secretive corporate front group that solicits money from corporations and spends it flying lawmaker-members to conferences in swanky settings where they help corporate members write legislation to fatten the corporate bottom line. The lawmakers take ALEC legislation back to their states, where they often introduce it word-for-corporate-written-word, sometimes with the ALEC logo still affixed to the pages.

This process effectively eliminates those pesky voters from lawmaking. ALEC is the middleman bringing corporations and lawmakers together, facilitating a process in which corporations craft legislation for themselves, and then lawmakers—all fat and happy on the corporate dime—take that legislation home and get it passed. No citizen input needed, thank you.

Stand your ground” laws are an ALEC achievement. These shoot-first-ask-questions-later decrees create deadly situations like the one in which George Zimmerman walked free after shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Shoot-first laws are great for gun manufacturers, assuring no liability for hotheads who rashly use their products. Florida’s shoot-first law wasn’t so great for Trayvon Martin. And, as it turns out, shoot-first  wasn’t great for ALEC, which lost about 400 lawmaker members and at least 40 significant corporate sponsors as a result of publicity linking ALEC to the shoot-first  laws and other legislation detrimental to citizens, such as ALEC’s voter suppression legislation requiring citizens to perform backflips through flaming hoops before exercising their most basic right in a democracy.

ALEC documents just leaked to The Guardian newspaper reveal the shadow group’s latest campaign to enrich corporate members at the expense of citizens. ALEC wants homeowners who have bought and installed solar panels or wind turbines to pay utility companies to accept the excess electricity they generate.

When utilities get power from oil or coal-fired generators or nuclear plants, they pay for it. But ALEC’s energy industry members want homeowners who produce renewable energy to be treated differently. They want homeowners who produce green electricity to pay the utility to take it, and then the utility would sell it.

The utility gets paid by both the energy producer and user! It’s a win-win, where the utility wins twice. For green energy producers and consumers, it’s a lose-lose.

Such legislation is the reason ALEC needs that loyalty oath—to get lawmakers to swear to serve corporations and ignore constituents.
ALEC met again last week. Maybe it adopted the loyalty oath then. Again, the public doesn’t know because ALEC excluded reporters and citizens from its work sessions. It allowed reporters only to attend speeches by Republican publicity-seekers such as Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who insisted on shutting down the government for 16 days in a failed attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act and deny millions health insurance.

Cruz slandered Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who conducted hearings earlier this year on ALEC’s role in propagating shoot-first laws. In a warped attempt to be funny, Cruz attributed to Sen. Durbin a frightening McCarthy line. Cruz told the ALEC members: “I was just at the Capitol and I was asked to pass along an inquiry from Sen. Durbin: ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of ALEC?’ ”

Cruz is wrong. Americans should be asking that question because they can’t be sure their state lawmakers haven’t sworn first allegiance to ALEC and thus foresworn their duty to first serve the citizens of their states and uphold the constitution.

ALEC claims 1,810 state lawmakers hand over—or get their state taxpayers to pay for them—$100 ALEC membership dues. But that figure seems questionable. For example, ALEC claims every single legislator in Iowa—all 150 of them, Democrats included—and every single legislator in South Dakota—all 105 of them, Democrats included—are members. This is an organization that describes its mission as advancing free markets, limited government and federalism. Those are the priorities of the Tea Party, not Democrats.

While some organizations have tried to compile ALEC membership lists based on leaked ALEC documents, some individual lawmakers on those lists, particularly Democrats, have publicly denied any association with ALEC.

Voters have a right to know where the allegiance of their lawmakers’ lies. They should be asking if their elected representatives have sworn to serve ALEC first. And if so, those should be the first to go.
Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco's nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

More information about Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Corporate Extortion: States Are Giving Billions to Corporations That Don’t Create Jobs

  Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace  


Bidding war for Boeing showcases upside-down priorities. 

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock
As the nation turns its attention to the latest federal budget deal where curtailed spending and cuts are the defining principal, a dozen blue and red state governors are in a bidding war recklessly offering to spend billions for tax breaks and other public-paid subsidies to lure the corporate giant Boeing to build its next-generation aircraft factory.

Beyond the schizophrenic spectre of congressional negotiators saying no to spending as governors are offering mountains of cash is a maddening reality: these taxpayer subsidies do not create the promised jobs or investments, a series of striking academic studies have found. All they do is boost bottom lines by cutting corporate costs.

“Economic development officials value business tax incentives as tools needed to compete with other states,” a November report commissioned by New York State’s Tax Reform and Fairness Commission began, stating their presumptive selling point. “There is, however, no conclusive evidence from research studies conducted since the mid-1950s to show that business tax incentives have an impact on net economic gains to the states above and beyond the level that would have been attained absent the incentives.”

The 143-page study, produced by Marilyn M. Rubin of John Jay College and Donald J. Boyd, the former director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government State and Local Government Finance research group, was not alone in this conclusion.

“We estimate the impact of manufacturer business taxes on value added during the 1990s for 15 manufacturing sectors in 20 U.S. states,” began a National Science Foundation report published this past June. “When we isolate the value of industrial incentives from the basic tax system in our theoretically preferred marginal tax measure, we find… only 1.2 percent industrial growth, the latter elasticity not statistically different from zero.”

Zero. Think about that. Right now the federal government is curtailing spending on a vast array of needed initiatives—from social safety nets to next-generation weather satellites. And in state and local government, which is the frontline for services and will face the consequences of federal budget cuts, yet another corporate giant is seeking and being offered billions—even as experts say those subsidies are worthless for creating jobs.

“When combined with many previous reports, the Rubin and Boyd [New York State] study shows that state and local giveaways to corporations simply redistribute wealth upward without increasing jobs,” wrote David Cay Johnston, a former Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times taxation reporter for TaxAnalysts.com. “Their continued existence is a testament to the benefits of being politically connected.”

The national cost of “being politically connected” was estimated at $80 billion annually, the New York Times found last year after investigating the “incentives [that] are given by states, cities and counties to companies that often pit local officials against one another to get the most lucrative packages.” Kenneth Thomas, a University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist, estimated that cost was $70 billion annually, Johnston noted.

Boeing’s bidding war is the latest high-profile example of this corporate extortion racket.

It threatened to leave Washington and build a new factory for its next-generation 777X jet—which has $95 billion in orders—after a key union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, refused to accept a freeze in members’ pensions.

That prompted Boeing executives—who moved their headquarters to Chicago a decade ago after another interstate bidding war—to say that it was looking for greener pastures. Washington’s legislature convened a special session and adopted a package of subsidies worth $8.7 billion through 2040. Missouri put together a package worth $1.7 billion.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch got a copy of Boeing’s wish list, which was supposed to be confidential. It included free land, free facilities, free worker training, access to roads, railways and special runways, and all possible tax breaks. “Entire applicable tax structure including corporate income tax, franchise tax, property tax, sales/use tax, business license/gross receipts tax and excise taxes to be significantly reduced,” it said.

The nation’s political elite doesn’t want to hear that coddling corporations is a ripoff—and the public’s money could and should be more wisely spent elsewhere. In Congress, supporting for legitimate public needs has become an unforgiveable sin in the eyes of rightwing Republicans in both chambers. Meanwhile, pro-corporate Democrats also support unneeded corporate largesse, as seen by the pathetic offers to companies like Boeing coordinated by governors such as Washington’s Jay Inslee, a Democrat.  
The corporate subsidies study commisioned by New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo was apparently not what the governor wanted to hear, Johnston reported. It was not merely shelved, but Cuomo’s response to the corporate subsidy report was to appoint a new tax reform commission, “and made no mention of eliminating the tax credits so thoroughly dissected by Rubin and Boyd,” he wrote. “The implication being that not having gotten what he wanted, Cuomo is trying again for a report made as instructed—although only time will tell.”

Meanwhile, across the country, there is little evidence that government is slowing the movement of taxpayer resources toward the top. The newest federal budget deal doesn’t raise taxes on the wealthiest people or institutions. Instead, it cuts services for the middle-class, poor and eats away at federal workforce pay and benefits, according to an early analysis by the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

At the state level, GOP governors—some of whom have blocked Obamacare and denied access to proactive care for their poor by refusing federal funds to expand Medicaid, such Alabama and North Carolina—were “putting together bids [for Boeing]… bragging about their respective environments of can-do optimism,” The New York Times reported.   
This schism—Congress curtailing spending while states bend over backwards to offer the latest corporate giant everything it wants—shows the power and reach of government. If only that “can-do” attitude was put to work to cultivate economic security for millions of struggling American households, instead of for a wealthy corporation that’s evaded taxes and reported billions in profits for years.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).