It can be hard to get a big corporation to go on record about anything – much less something controversial.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by the answer I got at Google’s annual shareholder meeting when I asked cofounder Larry Page why the company is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization that has publicly opposed many of Google’s positions and interests.
After receiving applause for my question, Google’s head lawyer David Drummond – who was helping Page to answer questions – responded that the company’s membership in the U.S. Chamber is something senior leadership debates a lot. He added that while there are some things that the U.S. Chamber is good for, there is a lot of stuff it does that Google doesn’t agree with.
He concluded by saying that, “while we are members for now, it’s something that we do review.”
Today’s news that former D.C. Councilmember Michael Brown plans to plead guilty to corruption charges highlights the urgency for the Council to pass pay-to-play legislation before the next city elections. Brown reportedly plans to plead guilty to federal charges of accepting payments for favors from undercover agents posing as government contractors.
Pay-to-play scandals involving D.C. officials are so pervasive that perhaps the biggest news here is that it is news at all. The District of Columbia, like several jurisdictions around the nation, is embroiled in a series of “campaign-contributions-for-government-contracts” scandals that have caused immense harm to the image and credibility of the D.C. government.
These scandals do not just damage the public’s confidence in government. They often waste taxpayer dollars, cause the business community to think twice about engaging in government services and endanger otherwise promising careers of public officials.
In the wake of this wave of pay-to-play allegations, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Attorney General Irvin Nathan have drafted the “Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform Amendment Act of 2013” (B20-0003). The measure offers a number of desperately needed campaign reforms but, most important, it contains sweeping pay-to-play restrictions that would squarely address the recent campaign finance scandals of government contractors attempting to influence District elections.
It is long past time for the District to move forward on this legislation and get it in place in time for the next election – before contractors try to buy more favors, before citizens and businesses alike lose more confidence in their government, and before other public officials are tempted to cross the line into scandal.
Photo by our friends at Amazon Watch
A diverse and spirited crowd gathered outside of Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting yesterday to protest the fossil fuel company’s record on political spending, climate change and human rights.
Public Citizen activist Shoshana Wechsler joined the demonstration and voiced concerns that Chevron’s donation was possibly illegal under the federal pay-to-play standard.
“In its lowdown pursuit of the bottom line, oil giant Chevron has wreaked environmental destruction from the Amazon rainforest to Richmond,” said Wechsler. “And when it made a multimillion dollar contribution to a conservative super PAC during the last election, it may have violated a federal law prohibiting political donations by federal contractors.”
While the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission may have opened the door to unlimited corporate contributions to super PACs, companies that hold government contracts are subject to a different set of rules under the federal pay-to-play standard.
In December 2012, federal prosecutors failed to bring true justice to HSBC for massive, criminal money laundering because the giant UK bank was too big. An indictment, they thought, would ravage the financial sector.
In January 2013, with a full month to reflect about the non-prosecution of HSBC, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged the reason behind the decision: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.”
Since then, numerous bank regulators and Obama administration officials have attempted to refute their role in or even the accuracy of Holder’s assertion. In testimony and speeches, officials from the Federal Reserve, FDIC, Comptroller of the Currency, and Treasury contradicted Holder’s claim that government deemed some banks were just too big to jail. Those denials may be explored when Justice Department official James M. Cole testifies before a House financial services subcommittee May 22.
Republicans on the House financial services committee have long been a cheap date for Wall Street. So it was no surprise that they voted unanimously on May 7 in favor of nine bills to eviscerate important safeguards in the 2010 Wall Street Reform Act pertaining to derivatives supervision. But American taxpayers would be discouraged to learn that most of the junior Democrats on this committee also jumped into the back seat with their Wall Street suitors.
Derivatives regard the gambling aspect of financial firms’ operations, the part in which they make high-stakes bets under the guise of “hedging.” For instance, the unregulated “credit default swaps” that nearly caused a full meltdown of the financial sector in 2008 were derivatives.
The bills in question include one (HR 1256) that cedes regulatory authority over foreign affiliates of American companies to foreign countries. Another (HR 992), allows taxpayer-backed banks to engage in risky derivatives bets that the Dodd-Frank reform law banned. The bills involve obscure terms, which, alas, are where the “muggers hide,” as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) once said. Here is Public Citizen’s memo explaining the bills that was distributed to the committee. And here are materials from Americans for Financial Reform.