by Jess Unger
The need for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act remains alive and well. Companies and executives are still getting caught red-handed. The U.S. Chamber still wants the highly effective law weakened.
Since the landmark guilty plea and settlement in the Alcoa Worldwide Alumina (Alcoa) case in January, companies have paid another $196 million in penalties for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In March, Marubeni Corporation pleaded guilty to bribing an Indonesian member of Parliament, among other foreign officials. In April, Hewlett-Packard subsidiaries in Russia, Poland and Mexico accepted responsibility for bribing former executives of state-owned companies and police department officials and for maintaining a multi-million dollar slush fund for various other corrupt payments in those countries. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted several other individuals since the Alcoa case as well, including Wall Street broker-dealers and a former vice president of Bechtel Corporation.
Despite these recent successes in curbing egregiously corrupt behavior under the FCPA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to weaken the law. A few days before Halloween 2010, the Chamber released a report that dressed up the FCPA as a boogeyman that scared away business with its “increasingly aggressive” interpretation by enforcement agencies. The Chamber report demanded five amendments to the FCPA — nominally to provide guidance for businesses in complying with the law — that actually were designed to hamstring enforcement. Undeterred by the subsequent release of a 130-page guidance document by DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rejecting the Chamber’s demands, the Chamber still ranks FCPA “reform” among their lobbying priorities for 2014.
Do you think there should be checks on people wearing computers on their faces while driving? Feel like there should be some oversight on self-driving cars? How about limits on the ability of companies to collect and commercialize information about elementary school students?
As today’s front page Politico article explains, these are a few of the issue areas in which Google is lobbying state officials behind closed doors, hurting society’s ability to have a democratic conversation about major new questions of our day. And there’s likely more legislation being pushed by Google that we don’t know about.
Tony Romm’s article, “States of Play: Google’s political roots run deep at the local level to counter regulators on Google Glass, Fiber and self-driving cars,” adds to the crescendo of concern about Google’s growing, nontransparent political spending. In addition to Google’s position as a voracious vacuum of consumers’ personal information, it has become a major lobbying spender on the federal level, sitting at No. 2 among companies so far this year. And Romm notes that there’s a whole other realm of lobbying where Google is very active and far less than transparent about its activities: state and local governments.
In a word: Yes.
For the past four years since the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, shareholders have been beating the drum for increased disclosure by companies on political spending. Nearly 1 million people have supported a rulemaking petition at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calling for disclosure of corporate political spending. And active shareholders have filed hundreds of proposals with companies asking for the same disclosure.
Still, Corporate America insists that shareholder support for disclosure is scant. According to Wall Street, and its mouthpiece the Wall Street Journal, the thousands of comments at the SEC and the hundreds of shareholder proposals supporting disclosure are just fantasy.
Monday’s opening of Google’s new Capitol Hill office, a 55,000 square-foot space less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol, symbolizes the company’s growing political activity and nontransparent expenditures, Public Citizen said today. Google did not respond to two phone messages and an email inquiry from Public Citizen about the purpose of this office, but multiple media reports have interpreted it to be used for lobbying and political activity purposes.
Google has been the No. 2 company in lobbying spending two of the past three years, and was No. 5 last year – making it the most active lobbying company in the tech industry. At the same time, its political spending transparency lags behind the openness of other tech companies.
Google’s new office is 25,000 square feet larger than the company’s previous Washington, D.C., office, and about twice as close to the Capitol. It’s roughly the square footage of the White House. The building is at 25 Massachusetts Ave., NW. A call to the company that owns the property confirmed that Google opened its offices there on Monday.
A week before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its new greenhouse gas emission rule for existing power plants, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report attempting to pre-empt it, relying on a number of assumptions that turned out to be inaccurate – then interpreting its findings with strong doses of hyperbole.
We rounded up the best responses to the Chamber as it tried to block progress in this historic moment for taking action on climate change.
1. Even before it came out that the Chamber overestimated how ambitious the EPA rules would be, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman noted that the Chamber report actually proved that the cost of action is small.
“So the Chamber is telling us that we can achieve major reductions in greenhouse gases at a cost of 0.2 percent of GDP,” he wrote in a blog post. “That’s cheap!”
“You might ask why the Chamber of Commerce is so fiercely opposed to action against global warming, if the cost of action is so small,” he wrote in an op-ed the next day. “The answer, of course, is that the chamber is serving special interests, notably the coal industry — what’s good for America isn’t good for the Koch brothers, and vice versa — and also catering to the ever more powerful anti-science sentiments of the Republican Party.”