Shareholder meeting season is upon us!
I know, Public Citizen is known for watch-dogging corporations not investing in them.
But this is the time of year that the Corporate Reform Coalition (a coalition Public Citizen chairs) gears up to do some serious protesting outside of company meetings (and to ask tough questions inside the meetings too.)
Corporate cash in elections corrupts our public officials and thwarts important progressive reforms by spreading misinformation and drowning out the voices of average people. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the power to change this. Until they act, we’ll be joining with shareholders who are fed-up with the lack of transparency and who are striking back with resolutions and rallies to pressure companies to do the right thing themselves. With those things in mind we picked a couple of big corporations this year that stood out as uniquely deserving of activist anger for their meddling in our democracy and our lives.
Last Wednesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted an event called Shifting Tides: Worker Centers and a New Model of Representation, a live-streamed symposium to inform representatives from industry and government about how worker centers are empowering workers and communities, in an effort to coordinate weakening these centers’ ability to impact business practices. The event was put on by the Chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative. Apparently, companies hiding behind the veil of the Chamber and other business associations like the Orwellian-named Workforce Fairness Institute are the only voices qualified to decide what constitutes freedom and fairness in the workplace.
Out of the four guest speakers at Wednesday’s event, only one could be traced back to a specific company, and only from earlier in his career: Joe Kefauver, formerly an executive of Walmart and Darden Restaurants – both targets of worker center campaigns that educate the public about poor treatment of employees. Kefauver now heads Parquet “How do We Challenge the Social Justice Narrative?” Public Affairs, which is tied to another anonymous corporate front group, Worker Center Watch, and is a member of ALEC. The other guests included George Washington University Professor Jarol Manheim, who has a long history of opinions that favor of employers over union interests and who recently wrote a report for the Chamber; Stefan J. Marculewicz, a corporate lawyer; and Brian E. Hayes, a former Republican member of the National Labor Relations Board who once made the unprecedented threat to quit the NLRB so that it wouldn’t be able to achieve quorum.
This is the week when, more so than any other time of the year, Americans have taxes on their minds. And, as another tax filing season wraps-up, it’s always a great time to reflect on potential changes that could make our system more equitable.
Absolutely, corporations need to stop dodging taxes by gaming the system to book profits offshore. It’s infuriating for individuals who take seriously their civic duty to pay the taxes that support government infrastructure to know that some corporations are shirking their responsibility by paying little or no corporate income tax. And then there are the ridiculous deductions companies are taking: for multi-million dollar executive bonuses and for settlements after having been charged with wrongdoing.
It’s true we’ve come a long way, baby but we’re not quite there.
Earlier this week, “Equal Pay Day” marked the amount of time into a new year a woman is estimated to need to work to make up for the pay gap between genders. Yet, legislation to right this imbalance failed in the U.S. Senate and in the House of Representatives. As women’s rights advocates fight to end pay inequality, there’s a less known problem that’s affecting women: forced arbitration.
Last month, Americans celebrated the achievements of females during Women’s History Month, including our partners in the Fair Arbitration Now coalition who joined together to highlight the special problem of the impact of forced arbitration on women.
The battle for women’s rights is an ongoing campaign, and we have seen hard-fought successes. Through a series of landmark cases starting in the 1970’s, the concept of Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as codified by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was firmly established as law of the land to treat women as equal to men. While the struggle there continues, women’s rights are also affected by our diminishing right to access the court system. The Seventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants all citizens the right to a jury trial. Yet corporations consistently have been allowed to thwart that right by inserting arbitration clauses in contracts for employment and consumer products such as credit cards, cell phones, nursing homes, and even home construction.
Do you think big tax breaks for big corporations should end? Do you think large multinational corporations should pay their fair share of the costs needed to provide essential government services?
If the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gets its way, we’ll be stuck with the current status quo, where corporations are allowed to ship profits overseas to tax havens and game the system to pay little or no taxes. According to a new report, the Chamber has lobbied more intensely than all but one entity, General Electric, to renew a package of lapsed tax breaks, known as “tax extenders,” that could amount to $700 billion in lost revenue over 10 years.
Chamber lobbyists appeared 789 times in lobbying reports on renewing these tax breaks – an average of more than one appearance in the lobbying reports per weekday – in the 33 months between 2011 and 2013 covered by the report. On top of that, each lobbying report represents from one to dozens of contacts with members of Congress and their staffs during the quarter it was filed. The next highest number of appearances after the Chamber’s 789 was Hewlett-Packard with 372.
In addition to its number of appearances, the Chamber spent significantly more money lobbying for tax extenders than any company. It spent $254.6 million, which was 31 percent of what the top 30 organizations cumulatively spent. The next highest spender was General Electric, at $61.4 million, followed by Goldman Sachs, at $50.7 million. In total 373 organizations lobbied on the tax extenders, spending an average of $7.8 million – 3 percent of what the Chamber spent.