Cutting Corporate Welfare, by Ralph Nader

When I was 14 years old, I heard Ralph Nader say that box cereal was less nutritious than the box it came in, and you'd get more nutrition out of tearing up the box and pouring sugar and milk over it, and eating that for breakfast. That's the kind of genius that Ralph Nader produces constantly, and why his ideas changed the world for Americans more than perhaps any political thinker of the late 20th century. He remains more relevant than virtually every other political thinker currently on the scene.


Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 10:55 pm


The modern corporate bailout period began with the 1974 Lockheed bailout, escalated with the 1979 Chrysler bailout, and soared with the gigantic savings-and-loan bailouts of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

These bailouts, of course, are generally doled out to large corporations and industries. When a family-owned restaurant fails, no government intervenes to stop it from going belly up. If a small factory can't pay its bills, it goes out of business. The bailout, a premier form of corporate welfare, is typically yet another market distortion against the interests of small and medium-sized businesses.


Bailouts are different from other corporate welfare categories in that they are ad hoc and unplanned. There is no ongoing government bailout program to be cancelled or reformed.

But there are lessons to draw from recent bailout experience that should inform Congressional action now and in the future.

First is the issue of payback. In the case of the Chrysler bailout, the federal government received warrants and ultimately earned a profit on its loans. In the case of the S&Ls, a special levy was assessed against the industry to pay some of the costs -- although the overwhelming majority of the cost was borne by the taxpayers. If Congress determines in any particular case that a company or industry bailout is necessary, it should prioritize the issue of payback -- assuring that, after the company or industry is nursed hack to health, our government is paid in full, or as close to full as possible.

Second, monetary payback is not enough. In bailouts, the government is stepping in because private financial markets are not willing to invest in or make loans to the troubled corporate entity or entities. And especially because the government is doing more than making a market-justified loan, it has a right to make additional non-monetary demands, particularly demands designed to prevent the need for future bailouts.

In the case of the S&L bailout, consumer groups repeatedly urged Congress to require depository institutions, as a condition of the bailout, to carry notices in their monthly balance statements. These notices would have invited consumers to join democratically run, nonprofit, non-partisan consumer groups that would advocate for their interests and provide an institutionalized scrutiny of S&Ls, banks, and other depository institutions. [38] These organizations would have been privately funded, voluntary, and statewide. They would have operated at no cost to the taxpayer or to corporations, because their mailing inserts (paid for by the consumer group) would have used the "extra" portion of the billing envelope, adding no postage costs to the S&Ls. These financial consumer groups would have functioned as an institutionalized early warning system, ringing alarm bells over emerging problems before they reached crisis phase. They remain a vital proposal for depository institutions, as does the proposal more generally for other industries and companies. At minimum, some variant of this proposal should be attached to every bailout, and where applicable, as in the case of the digital TV spectrum, to giveaways also.

Third, the S&L crisis was triggered in large part by industry deregulation, specifically the Reagan Administration's decision to permit S&Ls to raise interest rates and to leave their area of competence (lending for housing) and venture into other uncharted, riskier waters. [39] And it was caused, to some considerable extent, by S&L criminal activity. This experience should be an important cautionary note for corporate welfare opponents, including conservatives who fancy themselves opposed to "Big Government": deregulation, underregulation and nonregulation pave the way for bailouts, especially in the financial sector. The non-regulated world of hedge funds, for example, contains all the warning signs of eventual crisis and a demand for bailouts. The perceived need for Federal Reserve intervention in the case of Long-Term Capital Management, and the possibility that losses to the firm could have been much more severe, highlights the potentially serious bailout possibilities that might be faced in the near future, absent newly imposed regulations.

Finally, strong antitrust policy and enforcement is a vital prophylactic against the emergence of too-big-to-fail institutions which, by their very size and importance to the national economy, are sure to benefit from a government bailout in the face of potential collapse.

The passage in 1999 of HR 10, which erased the line, established by the Glass-Steagall Act and the Bank Holding Company Act, preventing common ownership of banks, insurance companies and securities firms will exacerbate the too-big-to-fail syndrome. The removal of barriers to common ownership in the United States is triggering a global financial consolidation leading to the creation of giant financial conglomerates. Citigroup -- the product of the merger between Citibank and Travelers Insurance -- is the preeminent example. (The Citigroup merger occurred before the passage of HR 10, but became legal only with its enactment; the merged conglomerate had been operating on a temporary waiver of rules proscribing such a corporate marriage.)

With the new financial mergers, the bailout concerns extend beyond just the too-big-to-fail phenomenon. Regulators are likely to fear that permitting, say, an insurance company to fail would endanger the health of its conglomerate parent, which would in turn threaten a crisis of the entire financial sector, including taxpayer-insured banks. That will create strong pressure for a federal bailout. HR 10 will also effectively function to extend the federal safety net to non-bank affiliates of federally insured banks. If a bank with a failing insurance affiliate makes bad loans in order to bail out the insurance company, and then itself faces financial trouble as a result, federal deposit insurance will be there to back up the bank.

That insurance comes cheap. In 1995, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) stopped collecting deposit insurance premiums from banks. Today, all banks, except for a handful of the most risk-prone, receive free insurance from the federal government. As a result, the bank insurance fund at FDIC has only about $32 billion on hand to cover all contingencies for nearly 9,000 commercial banks with almost $3 trillion in deposits. And should FDIC come up short when banks fail in an economic downturn, it can turn to the U.S. treasury. In 1991, with the bank insurance fund in the red, Congress voted to establish a $30 billion contingency fund at the Treasury Department to be used in the event that FDIC ran out of deposit insurance money.


The S&L looters are back. A federal judge in California has ruled that Congress broke the government's contract with Glendale Federal Bank when capital based on goodwill was outlawed in the 1989 savings and loan reform legislation. [40] The court awarded the corporation $908.9 million. There are some 125 suits pending with claims similar to those of Glendale. If the Glendale case is a precedent, the government could lose another $30 billion on top of the nearly $500 billion in principal and interest that has already been obligated in the S&L bailout, with some of the new corporate welfare benefits conferred, as the New York Times has pointed out, on some of the more notorious figures in the savings and loan debacle, including some who are serving prison terms. [41] The 1989 reform legislation properly insisted that failed institutions be closed and that remaining S&Ls have adequate capital -- actual capital, not the fake capital represented by something as vague as goodwill.

The Glendale case presents two problems. One is how vigorously the Clinton Administration Justice Department is contesting the Glendale line of cases. The second issue is how the Glendale claims will be paid, if in fact courts hold that they must be. The New York Times reports that a provision was inserted into last fall's omnibus appropriations bill -- without hearings or open debate, in yet another example of how corporate welfare giveaways arc bound up with anti-democratic procedures -- that was designed to allay fears of lobbyists that the Treasury Department might refuse to pay or that the industry might end up being saddled with the costs through a special assessment. [42] This provision must be repealed, and it should be promptly replaced with legislation that assesses the special fee the industry opposes. The 1989 reform effort, including the implementation of strict capital rules and the elimination of worthless imitation capital like goodwill restored confidence in the savings and loan industry. This restoration of confidence has been a sizable government benefit, courtesy of the taxpayers, to the entire financial industry and its shareholders, and particularly to the thrift sector. It would be wrong for the taxpayers, who have borne the brunt of the savings and loan bailout, to now be required to pay the judgments of these goodwill suits.

And now another set of corporate rogues -- the tobacco pushers -- may be set to avail themselves of a bailout stratagem. The normal course for a company that cannot pay its bills is not to turn to the government, but to enter into Chapter 11, temporary bankruptcy. Since the 1979 reforms to the bankruptcy laws, large corporations have increasingly used bankruptcy as a refuge from large civil liability claims. A.H. Robins, Johns Manville, Union Carbide, and Dow Corning are among the companies which have followed this route, [43] and Big Tobacco is now waving the threat of bankruptcy to strengthen its bargaining position in lawsuits and in the legislative process. These companies have manipulated the bankruptcy code to force victims of dangerous products or dangerous production processes to absorb some substantial portion of the costs of their injuries and to separate future income streams from liability. This manipulation is particularly outrageous because it involves not financial creditors who misassessed the viability of a bankrupt company's operation, but innocent victims of corporate violence. There is, in the process, no government transfer to private corporations, but it is the law which permits these companies to victimize consumers twice, first by injuring them and secondly by denying them adequate compensation through the bankruptcy ploy. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision [44] should work to diminish corporations' ability to abuse bankruptcy procedures, but legislative reforms are needed as well. And careful monitoring is needed of the tobacco industry's ploys, especially as Big Tobacco faces billion-dollar verdicts in Florida and elsewhere for years of lying and manipulating nicotine levels to addict millions to the deadly smoking habit. A declaration of bankruptcy by the tobacco companies may not be bad for public health, but history certainly shows it would pose serious risks.
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Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 10:56 pm


Federal corporate tax expenditures -- special exclusions, exemptions, deductions, credits, deferrals, or tax rates -- totaled more than $76 billion in fiscal year 1999, according to conservative estimates by the Office of Management and Budget. For the five-year period 2000-2004, the government will spend more than $394 billion on corporate tax subsidies. [45]

The notion of tax "expenditure" expresses the idea that revenue losses due to preferential tax provisions such as special exclusions, exemptions, deductions, credits, deferrals, or tax rates have the same budgetary implication as a giveaway of government resources. When the government does not collect certain taxes due to tax expenditures, it is spending money. And when the government fails to collect taxes from corporations due to various legal preferences, it is subsidizing those companies as surely as if it were making direct payments to them. The issue here is not tax rates, but tax preferences for particular categories of corporations or corporate behavior.

The special insidiousness of corporate tax expenditures is that they are hidden subsidies. They do not appear as budget expenditures, and because they represent money not collected (rather than payments doled out) they do not generate even the felt-outrage of off-budget giveaways. Generally, once they have been included in the Internal Revenue Code, corporate tax expenditures remain on the books unless Congress affirmatively acts to remove them. This situation contrasts to on-budget programs, which require continuing Congressional approval and authorizations to continue, and therefore are automatically subject to ongoing Congressional review, if not action.

The 1974 Budget Act requires that a list of tax expenditures, corporate and individual, be included in the budget. This budgetary requirement at least makes it possible to identify the cost of most corporate tax expenditures, and it is a model for what should be done in other corporate welfare areas.

Many of the corporate tax breaks merit special attention because they actually encourage undesirable activity, including environmentally destructive activity. The oil and gas industry, for example, wins major subsidies through the tax code. When the need to encourage a transition to renewable fuels is clear, why does the Internal Revenue Code encourage more aggressive oil drilling, with its associated environmental harms, than even market demand would induce? What rationale is there for artificially biasing the market against conservation and efficiency? Tax escapes and credits to the oil and gas industry take more than $500 million from taxpayers annually. [46]

Similarly, several tax rules encourage wanton mining, beyond that which is justified even on market terms, by providing tax incentives for mining operations. The effect is to bias the market against recycling interests. [47] The percentage depletion allowance for mining allows mining companies to deduct a certain percentage from their gross income that exceeds the actual loss of value. (These vary by mineral, with sulfur, uranium, and lead given the high percentage of 22 percent.) Rules that allow immediate expensing of exploration and development, rather than a write-off as mines are depleted, plus other mining tax escapes, cost the Treasury an estimated $300 million a year. [48]

Then there are the specially targeted loopholes, such as the Amway example mentioned in the introduction. The Amway case is typical in the shady fashion in which it transpired, but it is somewhat atypical in that the exact beneficiaries were identifiable. Anonymity works as a protective shield for the corporate tax renegades. Removing that anonymity would make preservation of the tax advantages much more difficult politically. The President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should be required to compile a list of the top 50 beneficiaries of each corporate tax expenditure.

A second critical issue involves the intended effect of each tax expenditure. Aside from serving as payoffs to politically well-connected companies, tax expenditures are designed to encourage specific kinds of behavior. Do they do so? [49] For example, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit is designed to encourage firms to hire certain groups of people (such as recent welfare or food stamp recipients) for low-skilled jobs. The FY 1999 cost of this corporate tax expenditure is $285 million. [50] But it may be that the tax credit also provides an incentive for churning of these employees, so that employers can repeatedly recoup the tax incentive. (Employers can claim a credit of up to $2,400 for the first $6,000 of a workers earnings; workers must be employed for at least 400 hours for the credit to be claimed.) The tax credit may also provide an incentive for employers to replace existing employees with new employees from the targeted groups. Determining whether or not these unintended and undesirable outcomes occur requires more data gathering and close scrutiny. And because of the nature of tax expenditures -- they are effectively "administered" by the IRS rather than agencies with expertise in the relevant field -- scrutiny will come from Congress, the media and citizens, or not at all.

One way to facilitate that scrutiny is to have sunset provisions for corporate tax expenditures (as for other corporate welfare programs), which would require Congressional renewal of tax breaks. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is indeed scheduled to be phased out by 2004, but an unproven tax expenditure of this sort should have a shorter first life, say two years. At the least, a short initial period for tax expenditures would allow testing and review of whether they achieved their desired effects, and whether they had any harmful consequences. Generally, and without regard to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, such a standard seems particularly appropriate given the harsh time limitations applied to welfare for poor people in the 1996 "welfare reforms."

Another area deserving of immediate and priority Congressional investigation is the apparent underpayment of federal income tax by foreign corporations. A recent General Accounting Office (GAO, a Congressional research agency) report concluded that foreign-controlled corporations doing business in the United States pay approximately half the taxes that U.S. companies pay. [51] The report found that the approximately 15,000 large U.S. companies paid an average of $8.1 million in federal income taxes in 1995. The approximately 2,700 large foreign-controlled corporations in the United States paid an average of $4.2 million in the same year. Foreign-controlled companies paid taxes as a percentage of sales at just over half the rate of U.S. companies. Senator Byron Dorgan and Citizens for Tax Justice attribute the differential payments in large part to manipulative transfer pricing by foreign multinationals -- this practice of dubious legality involves paying too little or charging too much in paper transactions between U.S. and foreign affiliates, so that the income of the U.S. affiliate is artificially lowered. Citizens for Tax Justice points out that the growing number of foreign corporate takeovers of U.S. companies (Daimler's purchase of Chrysler, Deutsche Bank's takeover of Bankers Trust and BP's buyout of Amoco and possibly Arco prominent among them) may accentuate the tax avoidance problem. [52]

A second, growing source of multinational tax avoidance, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, involves financial transactions. In one, newly invented shell game, companies pay interest to non-taxable offshore subsidiaries and deduct the interest payments against their worldwide taxable income. But they claim an exemption from U.S. anti-tax haven laws by contending that, for U.S. tax purposes, the interest earned by the off shore subsidiaries does not exist. The Treasury Department has tried to clamp down on this tax-avoidance scheme, but has been blocked by Congress.
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Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 10:57 pm


One of the overriding trends in corporate welfare in recent decades has been the socialization of risk. In making risky investments -- some socially desirable, some not -- and sometimes undertaking reckless activities, investors are attracted to the prospect of high returns on investment. But corporations are increasingly brazen about foisting the risk of failure -- the very reason for high returns -- on taxpayers and consumers.

The drive to socialize risk while privatizing profit is evident in the corporate drive for tort reform, the tobacco companies' effort in recent years to limit their civil liability, and in the vital importance that business attaches to government insurance schemes, formal and de facto. Among these are: the International Monetary Fund, the Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF) and the insurance scheme of the Price Anderson Act.

Given the existence of a thriving private insurance market, there should be some skepticism attached to claims of necessity of any public insurance scheme. Certainly, there are cases where public insurance programs, voluntary or involuntary, may be merited. Where there is a public interest in guaranteeing industry survival and stability, for example, public insurance schemes may be sound public policy, especially where there is a likelihood of government bailout in the event of major industry liability or failure. But even in these cases, there should be a strong presumption of full-cost recovery and the imposition of reciprocal obligations from the insured, upon whom significant benefits (e.g., public confidence) are conferred by public insurance.

Where there is a viable alternative private market, and no clear public interest in industry protection, hard questions should be asked about the appropriateness of public insurance: What is the need for a public insurance alternative in such situations? Does the government do more than provide a subsidized service? Does the government serve as an insurer of last resort -- and if so, is this a beneficial public policy or one that merely provides an additional welfare support to other insurers? What public interest is served by government involvement in this area of insurance provision? Does it encourage imprudent investments and actions? Why should the government charge less than market rates for the insurance it provides? Is it a lead in to later government bailouts, as has been the case with banks?


The IMF is an international financial agency located in Washington, D.C., that helps debtor countries overcome balance of payments deficits. It makes loans to countries, conditioned on those countries adopting a policy package known as "structural adjustment." In recent years, the IMF has expanded its traditional function to function as a de facto insurer of the global financial system, making massive loans to countries that suffer from sudden withdrawals of international capital.

The Exchange Stabilization Fund is an off-budget account controlled by the Secretary of Treasury. Congress established it to enable the Secretary to defend the dollar in the event it lost an excessive amount of its value relative to other leading currencies. In recent years, the Secretary has made very large draws on the ESF to fund U.S. participation in bailouts of countries that are suffering from financial meltdowns.

The vast shifts in international financial capital which have characterized the global financial markets in the last decade have resulted in episodic crises when currency traders, operating in herd-like fashion, suddenly act to pull money out of an economy. These are typically national economies in which there has been a recent, prior infusion of foreign capital in a speculative frenzy. In the last five years, the most severe of these crises have occurred in Mexico, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and Russia.

In simple terms, the selloff of a country's currency forces its devaluation, making it relatively more expensive to pay debts owed in foreign currencies, and leaving the country with massive debt payment obligations that it is unable to meet.

When individuals are unable to pay their debts, of course, typically the debtor and the creditor share the pain. Through bankruptcy or otherwise, a process of work-out occurs, with the creditors receiving less than full repayment. This equitably distributes responsibility for overborrowing to the debtor and to the creditor for imprudent lending.

No such thing happens in international financial markets. When countries are suddenly unable to meet their payment obligations, the IMF rushes in. It provides money to the borrower, often in packages which include large contributions from the ESP. This money is used to repay creditors, letting them off the hook. The pain is borne exclusively by the borrowing country, which must accept recessionary austerity conditions (including tax increases, harsh budget cuts and government layoffs) from the IMF as a condition for the bailout of its private creditors.

Of course, the story varies from bailout to bailout, but this is the essential process.

In 1995, the Clinton Administration orchestrated a nearly $50 billion bailout of the Wall Street interests which stood to lose billions with the Mexican peso devaluation. The centerpiece of the bailout was $20 billion in currency swaps, loans and loan guarantees from the ESF. The IMF (in which the U.S. maintains an 18 percent share) contributed almost $18 billion to the bailout. Not all of the $50 billion was used, and what was used was paid back, but that does not affect the character of the Administration's action as providing after-the-fact insurance.

The peso devaluation was necessitated by Mexico's chronic balance of payments deficit, but the severity of the devaluation and subsequent crisis stemmed from the Mexican government's long maintenance of an overvalued peso. Fully aware of the peso's overvaluation, [53] foreign lenders and short-term investors continued to flock to the Mexican market because of its high, 18 percent interest rates. When the inevitable devaluation occurred, investors pulled out en masse. Rather than letting Wall Street accept responsibility for irresponsible lending, the Clinton Administration, with the help of the IMF, orchestrated the bailout.

The Mexico crisis repeated itself in Asia in 1997. Foreign investors and lenders poured money into the Asian tigers to take advantage of very high interest rates and returns, and then withdrew in herdlike fashion when the bubble burst. With South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia unable to pay back foreign loans (which suddenly appeared more expensive following devaluation), the IMF took the lead role in organizing bailouts of creditors and investors.

IMF loans injected money into the Asian economies to enable them to pay back their foreign debts. The amounts at stake were not insignificant: U.S. banks' exposure in South Korea was estimated to total more than $10 billion. Bank America alone reportedly had more than $3 billion in outstanding loans to South Korean firms, and Citicorp more than $2 billion. The other major U.S. banks with outstanding loans to South Korea included J.P. Morgan, Bankers Trust, the Bank of New York and Chase Manhattan. [54] Instead of eating their losses, the banks which made bad loans in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia received the money owed them, in some cases over modestly extended repayment periods.

The IMF/ESF money goes in and goes out. The banks get their money, the countries contract new debts to the IMF and get stuck with the IMF austerity demands. These recessionary structural adjustment demands have had tragic consequences throughout Asia. In South Korea, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed from under 3 percent to approaching 10 percent. In Indonesia, economic contraction has eradicated the income growth of the last three decades, with poverty rates soaring from 11 to 40 percent. [55]

There is still more. Among the conditions imposed on the Asian countries by the IMF and Rubin are requirements that these countries open up their economies further to foreign investors. (These demands relate to foreign "direct investment" in factories, agriculture, and service operations ranging from tourism to banks, not just "portfolio" investment in stocks, bonds, and currency.) Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin specifically and successfully pressured South Korea to open up its financial sector.

As a result, the very U.S. banks that contributed to South Korea's crisis and received a U.S. taxpayer bailout now stand to buy up lucrative sectors of the South Korean economy. Similar demands have successfully been made in other troubled Asian countries. [56]

History repeated itself a few months later, this time as farce, in Russia. Despite a widespread understanding that Russia had fallen into the grips of an unmitigated criminal capitalism, foreign capital poured into the country at some points seeking to take advantage of interest rates that hit 100 percent. No one could have doubted the risk of lending to Russia. But when the inevitable collapse came, the IMF -- prodded by the Clinton Administration -- was there with a bailout package. In July, the IMF signed off on a $22 billion bailout. The IMF released $4 billion dollars into the country immediately. That money went to pay back domestic and foreign creditors, with the rest apparently stolen. It served absolutely no purpose but to subsidize the wealthy in and outside of Russia, all of whom had gambled with their investments in an effort to take advantage of the extraordinary interest offered. In August, Russia defaulted on its loans, and the IMF suspended the bailout.

Not only is the double subsidy to the Big Banks unjust, it helps perpetuate the very problem it is designed to remedy. When the IMF and the Treasury Department bailout the banks -- in effect providing free insurance -- it sends a message: "Don't worry about the downside of your international loans. As long as enough banks get in too deep, we'll rescue you at the end of the day." That encourages more reckless bank lending, since the banks can earn high interest on high risk loans without having to absorb losses. (Economists call this the "moral hazard" problem.) While consumers don't benefit from the higher bank profits, they frequently find themselves hit with higher charges when banks suffer losses from reckless lending that are not fully bailed out.

Working out a sensible system of international financial regulation, which avoids Wall Street bailouts and the unfairly punishing of debtor countries is a complicated matter. It is clear, however, that the IMF and the ESF have to be reined in. Indeed, even the Wall Street Journal and Wall Street conservatives such as George Schultz, William Simon and Walter Wriston have suggested the IMF's powers should be restricted or the Fund abolished altogether. [57]

The Republican majority on the International Financial Institution Advisory Commission (the Meltzer Commission, a Congressionally appointed panel) recommended a series of intriguing proposals to restrict IMF lending to avoid the moral hazard problem. [58] At minimum the IMF should be denied all new funds.

Second, Congressional authorization should be required for ESF expenditures of larger than $100 million. Representative Bernard Sanders has introduced legislation to require a Congressional vote prior to ESF expenditures over a specified amount.


The nuclear industry may be the most subsidized in U.S. history. It is completely a product of U.S. government research and development. Having emerged from massive government investments, the nuclear industry has never cut its umbilical cord tie to the government. [59]

One critical, ongoing support for the industry is the Price-Anderson Indemnity Act, which limits the liability of the nuclear industry (both plant operators, and suppliers and vendors) in the event of a major nuclear accident. Under Price-Anderson, each utility is required to maintain $200 million in liability insurance per reactor. If claims following an accident exceed that amount, all other nuclear operators are required to pay up to $83.9 million for each reactor they operate. Under the terms of Price-Anderson, neither the owner of a unit which has a major accident nor the entire utility can be held liable for more than these sums. As of August 1998, this system capped insurance coverage for any accident at $9.43 billion. [60]

When the Price-Anderson Act was adopted in 1957, at the dawn of the commercial nuclear industry, the Act was intended to overcome reluctance to participate [in the transition to private nuclear industry] by the nascent industry worried by the possibility of catastrophic, uninsured claims resulting from a large nuclear accident." [61] Leaving aside for the moment the ecological and economic risks which should disqualify continuation of, let alone support for, the nuclear industry, assume that such a rationale was defensible at the time, as the government tried to promote development of an energy source which many believed would be safe, cheap, and abundant.

But watch how the rationalization perpetuates itself. "By 1965," the NRC reports, "when the first 10-year extension of the Act was being considered, a handful of nuclear power reactors was coming into operation, and the nuclear industry considered itself on the verge of expanding into large-scale nuclear power generation. Thus, the need for continued operation of the Price-Anderson system for the forthcoming 10 years was believed to be critical for the unrestricted development of nuclear power." [62]

A decade later, when another extension of the Act was being considered, the industry was more buoyantly optimistic than it ever had been or would be again. "With dozens of plants in operation or under construction and with hundreds more being contemplated to be in operation by the end of the century," the industry urged that the Act be extended rapidly so that "any uncertainty about extension would not disrupt nuclear power development," [63] says the NRC.

Now the industry is in decline. There have been no new orders for nuclear plants for the past 25 years, and aging plants are beginning to be shuttered. The original rationale for the Act is no longer plausible. But nothing has changed with respect to Price Anderson. Indeed, the NRC argues, "Given industry perception of the continuing need for Price-Anderson, and in view of the lack of new orders in plants, the situation is in some respects similar to what it was when Congress saw the need for enactment of the original Price-Anderson Act." [64]

(In one way, things are worse than they were in 1957: with nuclear plants closing due to aging, safety concerns, inefficiency, and license expiration, the Price-Anderson liability cap will progressively decline in future years. If the upper end of nuclear plant closing projections occurs, available insurance funds could shrink to $4.5 billion in 2013. [65])

The industry has gone through a full life cycle, but somehow it never outgrew the need for a federal insurance scheme and liability cap. The result has been a massive subsidy to nuclear power companies. Using the NRC's conservative numbers for the upper limit on a worst-case scenario accident and on the probability of such an accident occurring, Professors Jeffrey Dubin and Geoffrey Rothwell estimated the cumulative Price-Anderson subsidy to the nuclear industry through 1988 to be $111 billion in 1985 dollars. [66] This estimate is based on NRC data on the cost of worst-case accidents -- data which is conservative because it does not include health effects.

If, again, we leave aside the demerits of nuclear power, there could be justification for a federal scheme to promote risk sharing in a context which poses a (hypothetically) very small chance of an extremely large loss. (It should be emphasized, however, that this is exactly the situation for which the private insurance and reinsurance markets are designed.) But there is no justification for combining such a scheme with an overall liability cap.

The $9.4 billion liability is nowhere near sufficient to pay for the human health and property damages that could result from a nuclear meltdown. Nuclear Regulatory Commission studies have estimated costs in a worst-case scenario at more than $300 billion for a single catastrophe. [67]

The nuclear industry's real insurance program is not the $9.4 billion scheme of Price- Anderson, but the free insurance provided by the public. In the event of a catastrophic accident, after the $9.4 billion was spent, it is the federal government that would inevitably cover the costs -- with some costs probably absorbed by victims who have their injuries compounded by inadequate compensation.

Price-Anderson is a textbook example of the hybrid insurance-liability cap program that should be prohibited per se.

"Many nuclear suppliers express the view that without Price-Anderson coverage, they would not participate in the nuclear industry," reports the NRC. [68] If an industry which has benefited from massive government research and development and other subsidies for more than four decades, and which creates staggering, environmentally dangerous waste disposal problems and poses enormous risks to human health, cannot survive without government support, then it should not survive. The nuclear industry cannot meet the market insurance test and, with substitute energy sources available, it is not needed. The Price Anderson Act expires in 2002. If it is not repealed before then, it should not be renewed. If nuclear facilities close as a result, well, occasionally at least, corporate America should be subjected to the widely touted rigors of a free market.
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Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 10:59 pm


Government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) are stealth recipients of corporate welfare. Instead of cash or federal tax subsidies, GSEs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac receive their government largesse in the less obvious form of credit enhancements.

Thanks to their extensive links to the federal government, Fannie and Freddie borrow money in the markets at almost the same rate as the U.S. Treasury, something that no competitor can come close to matching.

Like other GSEs, much of the risk of these housing finance enterprises remains with the federal government while the profits flow to private shareholders.

It is true that the secondary market operations of these GSEs provide an important service by improving access to mortgage credit by home buyers and stabilizing the mortgage market. The GSEs obtain funds from the bond markets and acquire mortgages from local lenders. The process ensures that home buyers can tap into the nation's savings pool for mortgage financing.

Could these functions be carried out without government subsidy? Could private corporations -- without links to the government and without corporate welfare -- perform the same functions? These are questions meriting close Congressional scrutiny.

The key to Fannie and Freddie's phenomenal profits and soaring stock values is the financial market's perception that there is an implicit government guarantee behind the obligations of these corporations.

There are good reasons for the financial market's belief that the U.S. Treasury and the taxpayers would be the fall guys in the event of a default. Here are some of the GSEs' links to the federal government:

• Fannie and Freddie each have a contingency fund of $2.25 billion that can be drawn from the U.S. Treasury.
• Their securities are government securities for the purposes of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
• Their securities serve as eligible collateral for Federal Reserve banks' discount loans.
• The securities are exempt from registration under the Securities Act of 1933.
• The Secretary of the Treasury approves the issues.
• The Federal Reserve is the fiscal agent for the issues.
• Their obligations are eligible for unlimited investments by national banks and state bank members of the Federal Reserve as well as by federally insured thrifts.

Both Fannie and Freddie are exempt from local and state taxes -- another benefit that clearly falls under the rubric of corporate welfare. (Even when the District of Columbia was struggling on the edge of bankruptcy, Fannie Mae refused to cough up a dollar in lieu of local income taxes.)

There are varying opinions about how much these links, and resulting savings on borrowings, mean to Fannie and Freddie. Fannie Mae Chairman and CEO Franklin Raines concedes there are "benefits" (he prefers the word "benefits" to "subsidies"), but does not assign a dollar figure to the government ties.

However, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) conducted an extensive study of Fannie and Freddie entitled "Assessing the Public Costs and Benefits of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." CBO estimated that the credit enhancement stemming from the government links was at least $6.5 billion in 1995. [69]

According to CBO, Fannie and Freddie pass only part of that subsidy on to home buyers -- about $4.4 billion -- with the remainder of the credit enhancement subsidy pocketed by private shareholders, the corporations' executives, and lobbyists. [70] In other words, for every two dollars delivered to home buyers, Fannie and Freddie take one dollar of the subsidy for themselves.

CBO estimates that in 1995, about 40 percent of the of the earnings of Fannie and Freddie could be traced to the benefits of their government-sponsored status. [71]

These corporations have prospered under their GSE status and credit enhancement subsidies. Fannie Mae's stock appreciated 1,053 percent between 1989 and 1998. Freddie's stock appreciation was even greater, 1,260 percent. Sixteen years ago, Fannie Mae had a market value of $500 million. Today, the corporation is worth $70 billion.

In the process, Fannie and Freddie have become the dominant force in the housing finance market.

It is obvious that some of the subsidy derived from their GSE status is being used, not for home buyers, but to increase corporate power and control over all facets of the mortgage business.

Will this growing duopoly enjoyed by Fannie and Freddie stifle competition by private companies -- competition that might reduce costs and encourage innovation in a variety of mortgage products?

Not only stockholders, but officials of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are enriched by the subsidy.

In 1997, for example, Jim Johnson, Fannie Mae's chairman, received $5,441,232 in salary, bonuses, stock options, and other compensation. His predecessor walked away with a whopping severance package worth more than $20 million. Lawrence Small, president and CEO, received salary, bonuses and stock options of $2,948,751 in 1997. Jamie Gorelick, after leaving the Justice Department as deputy attorney general in May 1997, was the recipient of $1,850,993 in salary, bonuses, and stock options as vice chair of Fannie Mae during the last eight months of the year. She had no previous experience in housing finance.

The directors and officers of Fannie and Freddie have long enjoyed lucrative stock options. At the end of 1995, according to the CBO, executive officers and directors of Fannie Mae owned 1.6 million shares of the corporation. In Freddie Mac's case, CBO said executive officers and directors owned 695,000 shares of their corporation. In addition, the compensation agreements with officers of both corporations include generous options on hundreds of thousands of additional shares worth millions of dollars. [72]

All of the government sponsored enterprises are huge issuers of debt. Fannie and Freddie along with two other GSEs -- the Federal Home Loan-Bank System and the Farm Credit System -- issued $1.62 trillion of debt during the first quarter of this year.

The Federal Home Loan Bank System has been under fire from the Treasury Department for its borrowing practices. The FHLB System has used its ability as a GSE to borrow cheaply and engage in arbitrage by making investments in non-housing related investments.

But the champion of the arbitrage games among the GSEs has to be Farmer Mac, the newest addition to the rank of government sponsored enterprises. The General Accounting Office reports that Farmer Mac holds $1.18 billion of investments unrelated to its agricultural finance mission -- or 61 percent of its assets. [73]

House Banking Committee Chair Jim Leach calls it "unconscionable" for a government sponsored enterprise to have more than three-fifths of its assets in non-mission related activities.

"When a governmentally-privileged institution, that is established to serve farmers, abuses its status by investing disproportionately in arbitraged financial investments rather than agricultural loans, the Treasury and the Congress have an obligation to review its management practices," Leach says.

Leach is right about Farmer Mac. But Farmer Mac is but one small corner of the GSE story, particularly compared to the mammoth operations like Fannie and Freddie. All of these GSEs enjoy a special status because of their links to the federal government -- they all enjoy benefits because of the market's perception that the U. S. Treasury and the taxpayers stand behind their obligations -- a fail-safe status that leaves the federal government with the risk and the shareholders and the GSE executives with the profits.

A top-to-bottom review is needed of all the government sponsored enterprises. Are these hybrid half government, half private entities needed to meet credit needs? How well do they meet their statutory missions in specific sectors? And how much of their operations are devoted, not to their missions, but to playing the market in outlandish and unneeded arbitrage games? How much of their subsidy is used to benefit consumers, and how much is siphoned into shareholder profits and bloated executive compensation arrangements? Are existing capital standards adequate?

Addressing these problems will require confronting the familiar issue of corporate welfare beneficiaries' political influence. Some of the GSE subsidies intended to lower costs for home buyers are being diverted to build political and lobbying power designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Congress to provide (or for the public to demand) proper oversight or regulatory improvements which would protect the public, increase support for affordable housing, or ensure open competition in the mortgage market.

A report by the Campaign Reform Project reveals that Fannie and Freddie are some of the largest political soft money donors -- contributing more than $900,000 in the 1997-1998 election cycle. This is in addition to contributions by key employees.

Many of Washington's premier law firms along with former Members of Congress show up on the GSEs' list of lobbyists. The lobbying lists have included Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff to President Reagan, Nicholas Calio, President Bush's Congressional liaison and Michael Boland, former aide to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Former Members of Congress on the GSE lobbying payroll include Senator Steve Symms, Representative Vin Weber and Representative Tom Downey.
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Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 11:00 pm


Various government agencies maintain an array of export assistance programs. These programs raise the question of why overseas marketing and lending and other export assistance should be a government rather than private sector function.

As regular beneficiaries of double standards, big business executives and lobbyists, it seems, are without a sense of irony. How do the corporate proponents of international trade agreements designed to promote misnamed "free trade" explain their simultaneous support for marketing subsidies? If it is only on the grounds that "other countries do the same thing," perhaps they should turn their multinational lobbying prowess to eliminating other countries' export assistance programs.

The most disturbing feature of many of the export assistance programs may be that the assisted companies export troublesome products or technologies -- weapons, or environmentally hazardous equipment, for example. Such programs, especially the various private corporate arms exports initiatives supported by the Defense Department, should be ended.


The United States spends billions in a panoply of programs and agencies to support corporate commercial arms exports, according to the World Policy Institute's William Hartung. The Pentagon maintains a large bureaucracy devoted to promoting sales of military hardware by U.S. corporations to foreign governments. The Defense Department spends millions at military air shows to hawk the arms makers' wares, and it spends billions of dollars on loans, grants, credits, and cash payments to enable foreign governments to buy U.S. weapons. [74] Surely there are more efficient ways for the government to invest money if it is only concerned with creating jobs. [75]

Of course, weapons are not innocuous products, and there are severe costs to an arms exports policy driven by commercial impulses. Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has noted that the defense industry's weapons-pushing destabilizes countries and regions, as with respect to the removal of the ban on the sale of high-tech weapons to Latin America. The repeal of the ban was the direct result of industry lobbying. According to Arias, it "will certainly impede our efforts to break the vicious cycle of poverty and militarism." [76]

Commercial weapons exports may also undermine U.S. national security and humanitarian interests. As former Senator Mark Hatfield stated in 1995, "We can still enumerate dozens of cases where the transfer of U.S. military hardware has resulted in the misuse of those weapons, including human rights abuses and in the conduct of acts of aggression. Even more horrible is the fact that U.S. financed or provided arms have been used against our own soldiers in Haiti, Somalia, Panama, and Iraq." [77]

Why should the Pentagon subsidize commercial arms exports that may end up in the hands of dictators, may end upset regional stability, or which may be used against U.S. soldiers?


Other government export programs have been the target of more sustained public and Congressional outrage, which has led to some partial but still inadequate reforms.

The Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program, once known as McNuggets for the World for its support of McDonald's advertising (when it was formerly the Market Promotion Program), is a $90-million-a-year program which is now limited to support of marketing efforts by farmer cooperatives and trade associations. The benign-sounding category of cooperatives, suggestive of small farmer arrangements, includes such operations as Sunkist and Ocean Spray, which are well able to afford their own advertising campaigns. [78]

Again, the Market Access Program and similar programs raise difficult questions: Why is export assistance a proper government function? Why does the market fail to provide incentives for advertising, lending, or other functions? And if businesses determine that a particular activity is not market-worthy, what public interest is served by the government filling the vacuum? If export assistance from other nations is the primary rationale for U.S. activities, how serious are efforts to negotiate an international agreement to curtail such programs? Finally, does the government receive an adequate return on its investment?
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Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 11:00 pm


It is important that "pork" -- federal monies for unnecessary projects or inflated contracts -- is understood as a subset of, not a synonym for, corporate welfare. While pork is a significant drain on the federal treasury, it is not, by and large, a helpful analytic term. Labeling a project "pork" stigmatizes it as unnecessary; the response of the project's defenders is to say that in fact the project is necessary. "Pork" does not offer objective criteria by which the dispute can be resolved.

Nonetheless, while analysts may differ over whether one or another project is pork, almost no one disputes that pork exists and is widespread. Pork is in part a reflection of our regional and state representative system of governance, with legislators trying to return federal dollars to their districts or states. But it is also derivative of a corrupt political system in which special interests exert an unhealthy influence.


The Pentagon budget is a bloated source of contractor pork. Without entering into a discussion of U.S. national security imperatives, it is clear from many official reports by both the Congress and the Executive Branch that much of what the Pentagon procures is unnecessary; that Pentagon waste and fraud is persistent; and that these problems reflect the political power of the military contractors.

One classic example of unnecessary procurement is the C-130 transport plane, which is built by Lockheed Martin in Georgia, near former Speaker Newt Gingrich's district and in the home state of former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn. The Air Force has requested just a small fraction of the more than 250 C-130 transport planes for which Congress has appropriated funds since 1978. The planes cost about $75 million apiece. [79]

Systematic corporate contractor fraud and waste have long been, and remain, too widespread at the Pentagon. [80] Among recent revelations, the Department of Defense Inspector General reported on spare parts provided to the Pentagon by Allied Signal at a 57 percent markup over commercial prices. [81]

It is important to understand the political underpinnings for ongoing Pentagon welfare and the failure to crack down on waste, because it illustrates the importance of competition and economic decentralization in curbing corporate welfare, and because it presents a case where outrageous corporate welfare benefits helped consolidate the political influence of narrow business interests.

During the early years of the Clinton presidency, the Pentagon encouraged the defense sector to consolidate, and it backed up its encouragement by subsidizing mergers through payments to cover the costs of consolidation -- including extravagant "golden parachute" bonuses to executives of acquired companies. No industry knows how to respond to corporate welfare subsidies like the defense industry, in part because they conceive and lobby for them, as did Norman Augustine, the now retired CEO of Martin Marietta. The result of the Pentagon's encouragement is that military suppliers have undergone an ear-splitting consolidation that has left but three major prime contractors: Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon. Today's Lockheed Martin is the product of the merger of Lockheed, Martin Marietta, Loral, parts of General Dynamics and about two dozen other companies. Boeing leaped to the top tier of the contractor pack with its acquisition of McDonnell Douglas. Raytheon gobbled up Hughes.

With manufacturing facilities spread across the United States, these three companies now have enormous political influence -- they can show that new military contracts will mean jobs in the districts of hundreds of Members of Congress, and in nearly every state. For districts where they do not have facilities, they can employ suppliers to help give them a political presence. This structural power, which is supplemented by major investments in campaign contributions and lobbyists, [82] helps enable the contractors to preserve the cycle of wasteful spending and abuse at the Pentagon. The tight consolidation of the industry also leaves the Pentagon much less able to deploy one of its most powerful sanctions against contractor wrongdoers -- procurement disbarment -- because of the paucity of alternative prime suppliers.


The federal highway bills are another major source of pork. While important progress has been made in directing highway monies to road and bridge repair, as well as for modes of public transport, last year's highway bill, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) will allocate billions of dollars to new road construction, much of it unnecessary and harmful. [83] Instead of supporting modern mass transportation, Congress continues to surrender to the demands of road construction interests and the highway lobby. The harmful consequences include sprawl, air pollution and contributions to global warming.
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Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 11:01 pm



As anyone who has been bombarded with credit card solicitations knows, there is no credit shortage in the United States. So why does the U.S. government enter into the business of making loans and issuing loan guarantees to large corporations? Corporations generally want loans from the government either because the loans are made at below-market rates, or because the loans include some sort of implicit subsidy (including de facto government insurance). This is a form of credit allocation that some legislators decry when applied to ordinary Americans.

Consider a loan recently approved by the World Bank, in which the United States is the largest country shareholder with an approximate 16 percent share. The $180 million loan package will help finance an oil pipeline that would transgress Chad and Cameroon, in Central Africa. The corporate beneficiaries of the loans include Exxon and Chevron. The companies' consortium says that it plans to use the World Bank financing as the foundation for additional private financing. In other words, private lenders will be more willing to support the project knowing that the power of the World Bank stands behind demands for repayment. But if some of the world's largest oil companies do not feel comfortable financing an oil development scheme on their own, or if they are unable to attract private financing without government or multilateral lending agency support, perhaps that is a sign that the project should not go forward. (Critics point out that the project poses threats to rainforests, endangered gorilla-inhabited conservation areas and drinking water; and is likely to exacerbate ethnic conflicts with consequences potentially similar to those in Nigeria's Niger Delta or worse -- political violence, some connected to prospective oil revenues, is already rife in Chad. [84])

Loans and loan guarantees are another corporate welfare category deserving a high degree of skepticism. For healthy companies, these kinds of government supports should be unnecessary. For cases where a political decision has been made that special circumstances merit some company or industry receiving loans or loan guarantees, Congress should adopt legislation that establishes a presumption of full repayment, at market rates. (For comment on bailout loans, see the remarks above.)

The government maintains a variety of agricultural subsidies, ranging from irrigation subsidies to crop insurance and price supports for certain commodities. Many of these benefits accrue to corporate agribusiness, and often support environmentally harmful farm practices (such as overuse of water). The original purpose of farm supports was to support family farmers and enhance stability in agricultural markets, and it is doubtful whether the programs still fill this function. At the same time, many farm supports were eliminated by the 1996 Farm Bill, with the general effect of promoting agribusiness consolidation and increased power for grain traders. Food prices have not declined. All of this suggests the need for a serious and open-minded reassessment of farm programs, so that the public interest in protecting family farms and sustainable agriculture is advanced, while subsidies for large agribusiness are curtailed.
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Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2013 11:03 pm


Successfully ending corporate welfare as we know it will turn on a sustained campaign to educate, organize, and mobilize citizens. Merely documenting abuse is not sufficient to spark the national movement needed to trump corporate power. People need specific proposals to rally around, and a strategy which suggests our involvement.

With corporate welfare so pervasive at all levels of government, the campaign against it must be strategically savvy, multi-pronged and able to both create momentum and to take advantage of external events. After all, the looting of Uncle Sam is an ever-growing big business.

These are matters calling for creative thinking and approaches not only from legislators, but from law schools, political scientists, and economists. Unfortunately, a survey of law reviews and recent Ph.D. dissertations reveals a remarkable paucity of academic attention to the issue of corporate welfare; and until a June 1999 hearing of the House Budget Committee, there had never been a Congressional hearing devoted to a comprehensive assessment of the issue.

Here is an outline of proposals for discussion and reform. This list focuses on structural approaches, rather than itemizing programs that should be eliminated. The first set of proposals applies generally to corporate welfare, with the second being oriented around the categorization of corporate benefits outlined in this pamphlet in the spirit of trying to spark a flexible, multi-pronged campaign against corporate welfare. Some of the proposals overlap -- different approaches may appeal to different people, and different proposals may fit different political moments. In the same spirit, these initiatives are intended to he provocative and are certainly open to criticism and refinement. Their purpose is to jumpstart creative thinking, debate, and mobilization for cutting corporate welfare.


A Bill to Eliminate All Corporate Welfare. A simple bill written to abolish corporate welfare could provide a valuable tool for citizen education and organizing. Such legislation would not propose a permanent ban on corporate welfare, which in any case would always be vulnerable to subsequent legislative action, but would require proponents of particular programs to mobilize support for the affirmative re-commencement of their favored subsidies under both procedural safeguards and reciprocal obligations. Then the advocates of the 1872 Mining Act could make their case for why such an abomination should be reinstated after elimination.

The central operative language for such a bill might read:

As of January 1, 2001, every federal agency shall terminate all below-market-rate sales, leasing, or rental arrangements with for-profit corporate beneficiaries, including of real and intangible property, shall cease making any below-market-rate loans or issuing any below- market-rate loan guarantees to corporations; shall terminate all export assistance or marketing promotion for corporations; shall cease providing any below-market-rate insurance; shall terminate all fossil fuel or nuclear power research and development efforts, shall eliminate all liability caps, and shall terminate any direct grant, below-market- value technology transfer, or subsidy of any kind to for-profit corporations.

As of January 1, 2001, the Internal Revenue Code is amended to eliminate all corporate tax expenditures listed in the President's annual budget.

As of January 1, 2001, the Internal Revenue Code is amended so that the value of local, county, and state tax subsidies to corporations shall be treated as income.

Where contractual arrangements or promises made in law preclude any action required by Sections (1), (2), or (3) without payment by the federal government to existing beneficiaries of programs to be eliminated, federal agencies shall take such actions as soon as possible without incurring such payment obligations.

Because of the complexity of the corporate welfare problem, such legislation would obviously need to incorporate considerable language amending existing laws. And even this approach would leave some corporate welfare problems unaddressed -- such as the need to eliminate pork-laden or other programs in which the government should not be engaged, or for non-monetary commitments from corporations receiving government supports) -- but it would be a very useful start.

Citizen Standing to Sue to Challenge Corporate Welfare Abuses. Citizens could be empowered to mount judicial challenges to runaway agencies that reach beyond their statutory powers. Taxpayers could be given standing to file such suits, by awarding a $1,000 "bounty" (plus reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs' for those who successfully challenge improper agency action. Consideration should he given to creating an incentive for such suits by awarding successful plaintiffs a percentage of the money saved through such suits, perhaps according to a sliding scale of declining percentage returns for higher savings and with a cap set at certain amount. Just as qui tam suits under the False Claims Act have helped curtail oil company underpayment of royalties owed the federal government, so such a measure would create a structural counterbalance to corporate influence over federal agencies.

Funding for Town Meetings. Small local, state or federal appropriations could fund dozens of town meetings across the country on corporate welfare and help educate the public.

Sunsetting Corporate Welfare. This would involve legislatures requiring that every program in which the government confers below-market-value benefits on corporations, including tax expenditures, automatically phases out in four years after initial adoption, and every five years thereafter. Under such a rule, the programs could of course be renewed, but only with affirmative Congressional or state or local legislative action. Sunsetting would overcome the problem of inertia by which both bad ideas and good ideas turned bad become entrenched corporate welfare programs protected from serious legislative review and challenge. The entrenchment problem is a particular problem for non-budgetary items, which are spared even the reviews accorded to appropriations.

Annual Agency Reports on Corporate Welfare. Every federal agency could be required to list every program under its purview which confers below-cost or below-market-rate goods, services or other benefits on corporations. They could also publish a list of every corporate beneficiary of those subsidies above a certain de minimis threshold, and the dollar amount of the subsidy conferred. This measure would spur much more news reporting on corporate welfare, and would generate public awareness by assigning proper names to the beneficiaries. Relevant state and local agencies could be required to make similar reports.

These reports should be published on the Internet, as should all other corporate welfare- related disclosures.

SEC Requirement for Corporate Welfare Disclosure. The Securities Exchange Act could be amended to require publicly traded corporations to list the subsidies (both by type and amount) they receive from governmental bodies, and to publish this information on the Internet. Alternatively, the SEC could mandate such disclosure through rulemaking. This disclosure requirement is easily justifiable as in the public interest, since corporate beneficiaries are in many ways better positioned to report on the benefits they receive from government than the government conferrers. It would serve a valuable public purpose by assembling in a single location the dollar amounts of public subsidies accorded to the nation's largest corporations; and thereby enabling the citizenry to assess properly the extent and desirability of the subsidies. The disclosure requirement is also appropriate as a disclosure of material interest to shareholders. Government subsidies are of central importance to many of the nation's largest corporations, and to assess fully the value and future prospects of corporate earnings, shareholders have a right to information on government subsidies.

Limits on Executive Compensation in Government-Supported Corporations. Where the government is conferring substantial, voluntarily received benefits on corporations, it could reasonably limit the scope of beneficiaries to those who do not engage in particular sorts of socially undesirable behaviors. One such behavior is excessive executive compensation, which heightens income and wealth inequalities, and tears at the nation's social fabric. Government subsidies, including tax expenditures, could be denied to corporations whose executives receive more than a predetermined level of compensation, say those whose ratio of executive-to-lowest-paid-employee compensation is more than a certain amount, perhaps 30-to-1.

Prohibition of Government Subsidies to Criminal Corporations. The federal, state, and local governments take away fundamental rights, including the right to vote, from convicted felons who are persons. Corporations convicted of crimes rarely experience deprivations of anything near that scale. A small and appropriate step might be to deny any form of corporate welfare, including tax expenditures, to any corporation convicted of a certain number of felonies and/or misdemeanors. If the government is to confer subsidies on corporations, surely they should not go to enterprises convicted of criminal wrongdoing.

Reciprocal Obligations. The government should seek non-monetary reciprocal obligations from corporate welfare beneficiaries. These must necessarily vary by category of corporate welfare program and beneficiary. But two types of obligations are of special importance.

First is the requirement that certain subsidies be conditioned on beneficiaries enabling consumers to band together in non-partisan, non-profit, democratically governed organizations. This can be accomplished by allowing government-chartered consumer organizations that are accountable to their membership to include an insert, at no cost to the company, in the corporate welfare beneficiary's billing envelope, or publishing information on the company's web site. The insert would invite consumers to join the organization, which would work to contain prices, improve product quality and service, advocate for reforms, etc. This mechanism would be particularly appropriate for banks, thrifts and other lending institutions, insurance companies, HMOs, cable TV systems, and utilities.

Second, allocation of rights to government lands or other natural resources could be conditioned on beneficiaries agreeing to abide by environmental regulations, or even to uphold environmental standards that exceed those required by existing regulation.


Where state and local authorities feel compelled to provide corporate welfare packages, they should consider inclusion of "clawback" provisions -- mandating return of tax benefits if specific corporate promises are not kept -- in agreements with corporate welfare beneficiaries.

Regional and National Compacts. Congressional legislation should authorize anti-corporate welfare compacts between states, enabling them to enter into binding arrangements to refuse to enter a race to the bottom against each other in terms of using special tax breaks and related benefits or stadiums to influence business, including sports- team, location decisions.

Surtax on Local and State Corporate Welfare. Congress should consider requiring the IRS to treat local and state corporate welfare expenditures as income upon which federal taxes should be paid.


Prohibition on Government Giveaways. Government properties, whether real or intangible, should presumptively be sold, leased or rented to corporations for market rates. Although there may be exceptions (such as where consumer pricing considerations are considered of more importance than taxpayer reimbursement), there is generally no reason for taxpayer assets to be given away to corporations at less than market value.

Promote Competition in Allocating Government Resources. The market value of a government asset will vary based on the terms of the property transfer. Depending on the circumstance, taxpayer revenues may be lower if resources are allocated on a non- exclusive basis. But there is an overriding broad public and consumer interest in promoting economic competition, and there should be a presumption that, where possible, when taxpayer assets are to be transferred to corporations they be conveyed on a non-exclusive basis.

Competitive Bidding. Especially where the government plans to transfer taxpayer assets to corporations on an exclusive basis, asset transfer prices should be established by auction.

Reasonable Pricing Provisions. Where there will be a consumer end-user from the transfer of government assets (as in the case of products brought to market utilizing government-controlled intellectual property rights), the terms of the transfer should require the corporate beneficiary to agree to reasonable pricing provisions -- a requirement abandoned by the National Institutes of Health in 1993. This is of primary importance for exclusive transfers, where transferees may gain monopoly power. Because federal agencies, especially NIH, have historically done a poor job in enforcing reasonable pricing provisions, serious consideration needs to be given to how such provisions should be administered and enforced. Required disclosure of private investment in product development, and correlating prices with amount and proportion of private investment, may offer one fruitful approach. It may also be possible to include reasonable pricing guarantees in the bidding process, with preference given to bidders making enforceable promises of lower prices.

End Fossil Fuel and Nuclear Power R&D. There is no justification for federal support for these environmentally hazardous, nonrenewable energy sources. As study after study has demonstrated, energy efficiency and renewable energies represent future priorities.


No Discount Insurance. Consideration should be given to a legislative presumption against below-market insurance for corporations, requiring a special waiver for exceptions.

No Liability Caps. There should be a legislated blanket prohibition on liability caps, which unjustifiably protect corporations from paying for any harms they perpetrate. Liability caps, such as those in Price Anderson, should not accompany governmental insurance schemes.

No Discount Loans. Consideration should be given to a legislative presumption against below-market loans or loan guarantees for corporations, requiring a special waiver for exceptions, or perhaps a special waiver for corporations over a certain size.

Payback For Bailouts. Bailout beneficiaries should generally be required to pay back loans and outright bailouts in full, with interest, with priority given to repayments to the government over other claimants.

Preventing Foreseeable Financial Bailouts. H.R. 10 has lifted the regulatory walls between banks on the one hand and insurance and securities firms on the other, paving the way for the creation of too-big-to-fail financial holding companies, with federal deposit insurance likely to be de facto extended, at no charge, to other financial affiliates. H.R. 10 should be amended to include a provision establishing, in advance of imprudent risk-taking leading to future bailout demands, that no federal assistance will be made available to financial holding companies or to their non-bank affiliates. This provision will induce more prudent risk-taking.


Eliminate All Corporate Tax Expenditures. Because corporate tax expenditures are already compiled in the President's budget submission and by the Joint Committee on Taxation, this step would be less logistically complicated than ending all corporate welfare. Wiping the slate clean of corporate tax expenditures -- perhaps the most deeply entrenched type of corporate welfare -- would require the tax expenditure beneficiaries and their Congressional allies to justify anew these tax supports.

Require Reporting of Corporate Tax Expenditure Beneficiaries. The Internal Revenue Service should be required to publish a list of all corporate tax expenditure recipients over a certain de minimis level.


End Government Market Promotion. Congress should prohibit government-run advertising and marketing schemes for private corporations.

End Export Assistance. Congress should eliminate export assistance programs, or making them available only on a strict means-tested basis.

Transcending liberal-conservative divisions, there is a nascent national movement of consumer, taxpayer, environmentalist, labor, and small business groups that is waiting to be consolidated to stop corporate welfare. If these forces are united, they will form a powerful political force that can help rescue our political democracy from the narrow interests that now dominate it. Corporate welfare cuts to the core of political self-governance, because it is perpetuated in large measure through campaign contributions and the subversion of democracy; and because the continuation of corporate welfare itself misallocates public and private resources, generates unfair competition to companies not on welfare, and exacerbates the disparities and concentration of wealth, influence and power that run counter to a functioning political system in which the people should rule.
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Postby admin » Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:46 am


1. William Greider, Who Will Tell the People? The Betrayal of American Democracy, New York: Touchstone, 1992, p. 61.

2. Greider, p. 60

3. Paul Houston, "Influence of PAC Money on S&L Bailout Debated," Los Angeles Times, February 15, 1989, p. l

4. Edward Chadd, "Manifest Subsidy: How Congress Pays Industry -- With Federal Tax Dollars -- to Deplete and Destroy the Nation's Resources," Common Cause Magazine, Summer 1995, citing data from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

5. See the Center for Responsive Politics, "Who Paid for this Election?" ... us05b.html

6. John Zebrowski and Jeona Ziman, "Tough Sell," Mother Jones, November/December 1998.

7. Lizette Alvarez, "Senate Repeals Tax Break for the Tobacco Industry," The New York Times, September 11, 1997, p. A26.

8. David Postman, "Stadium Opponents unfazed by State Court -- Special Election Upheld; Appeal Planned," Seattle Times, December 25, 1998, p. B5.

9. David Schaefer, "Allen Showed Them the Money -- the Big Winners in the State's Most Expensive Campaign," Seattle Times, August 12, 1997, p. A1.)

10. Scott Stephens, "Schools in bad Shape, Study Says," The Plain Dealer, December 3, 1999, p. 1B.

11. Dean Starkman, "Condemnation is Used to Hand One Business Property to Another," The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 1998.

12. Scott Wilson, "Marriott Takes Deal to Stay in Maryland," The Washington Post, March 12, 1999.

13. Studies have concluded that many corporate location decisions are made on the basis of objective factors such as the labor pool, transportation, raw materials markets, schools, etc., and that the threat to move that elicits public subsidies is an added but not decisive windfall game that companies have perfected.

14. Jay Hancock, "Marriott Used Va. as Ruse to Raise Md. Bid; Public Records Suggest Bethesda Firm's Threat to Leave Was Bluff," Baltimore Sun, March 27, 1999.

15. See Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause, Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit, Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1998.

16. Gambling on Trent Lott: The Casino Industry's Campaign Contributions Pay Off in Congress, Washington, D.C.: Public Citizen, June 1999.

17. Paul More, Jessica Goodheart, Melanie Myers, David Runstein and Rachel Stoller, Who Benefits From Economic Redevelopment in Los Angeles: An Evaluation of Commercial Redevelopment in the 1990s, Los Angeles: The UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, March 1999.

18. Peter Enrich, "Saving the States from Themselves; Commerce Clause Restraints on State Tax Incentives for Business," 110 Harvard Law Review 377 (1996).

19. Robert Pepper, Chief, FCC Office of Plans and Policy, letter to Senator Joseph Lieberman, September 6, 1995. The licenses are technically granted for eight years, but renewal is virtually automatic.

20. Bob Dole, "Giving Away the Airwaves," The New York Times, March 27, 1997.

21. Pepper, September 6, 1995.

22. For a description of how this could be achieved, see Ralph Nader and Claire Riley, "Oh, Say Can You See; A Broadcast Network for the Audience," 5 Journal of Law and Politics 1, (1988).

23. See People for Better TV,

24. "Airwave Avarice" (editorial), Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1998.

25. For a history of passage of the 1872 Mining Act, see Carl Mayer and George Riley, Public Domain, Private Dominion: A History of Public Mineral Policy in America, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1985.

26. Mayer and Riley, p. 79.

27. Michael Satchell, "The New Gold Rush," U.S. News and World Report, October 29, 1991.

28. Testimony of Stephen D'Esposito before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, April 28, 1998.

29. Green Scissors '99: Cutting Wasteful and Environmentally Harmful Spending, Washington, D.C.: Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and U.S. Public Interest Research Group, 1999.

30. Thomas Power, Not All That Glitters: An Evaluation of the Impact of Reform of the 1872 Mining Law on the Economy of the American West, Washington, D.C.: Mineral Policy Center and the National Wildlife Federation, 1993.

31. D'Esposito, April 28, 1998.

32. "Investigation of Government Patent Practices and Policies: A Report of the Attorney General to the President," 1947, quoted in Background Materials on Government Patent Policy: The Ownership of Inventions Resulting in Federally Funded Research and Development. Volume II: Reports of Committees. Commissions and Major Studies, House Committee on Science and Technology, August 1976, p. 22.

33. For a fuller account of the taxol story, see Ralph Nader and James Love, Testimony Before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, February 24, 1993 (available at ).

34. See Nader and Love, February 24, 1993, especially Table 3 and Appendix A, for a close analysis of the federal involvement in discovery, pre-clinical research and clinical research of pharmaceuticals labeled as priority drugs by the Food and Drug Administration.

35. Heather Skale, "Gore's Efficient-Car Project Fuels Detractors; Environmentalists Fear It Will Run Dirtier," The Washington Times, June 26, 1999.

36. Complaint in United States v. Automobile Manufacturers Association, et. a1. (1969), reprinted in Congressional Record, September 3,1969 (91st Congress, 1st Session).

37. Tom Incantalupo, "Lean, Clean Driving Machine: Carmakers Switching Gears to Develop Green Cars," Newsday, March 8, 1998.

38. For a model legislation to create such an organization, see Robert Leflar and Martin Rogol, "Consumer Participation in the Regulation of Public Utilities: A Model Act," 13 Harvard Journal of Legislation 235 (1976).

39. See Ralph Nader and Jonathan Brown, Report to U.S. Taxpayers on the Savings and Loan Crisis, Washington, D.C.: BankWatch, February 1979.

40. Glendale Federal Bank v. The United States, 43 Fed. Cla. 390 (1999).

41. Stephen Labaton, "West Coast S&L Wins $909 Million from Government," The New York Times, April 9, 1999.

42. Labaton, April, 9, 1999.

43. See Laurence Kallen, Corporate Welfare: The Mega Bankruptcies of the 80s and 90s, New York: Lyle Stuart, 1991.

44. Estaban Ortiz, et. al. v. Fibreboard Corporation, et. al., 1999 U.S. Lexis 4373 (1999).

45. "Analytical Perspectives," Budget of the U.S. Government FY 2000, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1999.

46. Ibid., Table 5-2.

47. On the general matter of the anti-recycling bias of taxpayer subsidies, see Welfare for Waste: How Federal Taxpayer Subsidies Waste Resources and Discourage Recycling, Washington, D.C.: GrassRoots Recycling Network, Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Materials Efficiency Project, April 1999.

48. "Analytical Perspectives," Table 5-2.

49. For a compelling argument that tax expenditures frequently do not achieve their intended purpose in an efficient fashion, see Robert McIntyre, Tax Expenditures -- The Hidden Entitlements, Washington, D.C.: Citizens for Tax Justice, May 1996.

50. "Analytical Perspectives," Budget of the U.S. Government FY 2000, Table 5-2.

51 Foreign- and U.S.-Controlled Corporations That Did Not Pay U.S. Income Taxes, 1989-1995, Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office, March 1999

52. Robert McIntyre, GAO Report: Big Foreign-Controlled Firms Operating in U.S. Pay Lower Taxes Than American Companies, Washington, D.C.: Citizens for Tax Justice, April 1999.

53. To take one example of the earlier awareness, John LaFalce, D-New York, then chairman of the House Small Business Committee, and an array of expert witnesses at a February 1993 hearing described a peso meltdown to be a high probability almost two years before the crisis transpired.

54. Jill Dutt and John Berry, "In Rescue, Banks See Least Pain; Action Called 'Calming Force,'" The Washington Post, December 25, 1997.

55. "Asian Crisis: Impacts Worse Than Expected," United Nations Information Service, April 8, 1999.

Similarly, the economic effects have been devastating in Africa, where the Fund has undertaken its traditional structural adjustment programs. Sub-Saharan African countries' debt burdens have risen under structural adjustment: African country debt rose 3.5 percent from 1997 to 1998, despite those countries paying $3.5 billion more in debt payments than they borrowed in 1998. The IMF took out nearly $1 billion more from Africa than it put in last year. The IMF's recessionary policies have led to stagnant economies; an internal IMF review found poor countries undergoing structural adjustment to have averaged zero percent growth from 1986 to 1996. Those outside of the program averaged 1 percent.

56. See Jay Solomon and Kate Linebauch, "Indonesian Bank Merger May be the First of Many: IMF-Directed Move to Lift Capital Requirements Makes Deals Inevitable," The Wall Street Journal, January 20, 1998; Jeff Gerth and Richard Stevenson, "Poor Oversight Said to Imperil World Banking," The New York Times, December 22, 1997.

57. George Schultz, William Simon and Walter Wriston, "Who Needs the IMF?" The Wall Street Journal, February 3, 1998.

58. To see the full report, go to <

59. In addition to the Price-Anderson Act discussed here, the industry benefits from government assistance in helping address its enormous waste problem, and utilities that own nuclear power plants are now seeking to unload the "stranded costs" of such facilities on unsuspecting ratepayers as part of electricity deregulation. See Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project, "Utility Deregulation: Why Should You Care?" available at .

60. The Price-Anderson Act -- Crossing the Bridge to the Next Century: A Report to Congress, Division of Reactor Program Management, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, October 1998, (NUREG/CR-661).

As originally passed, Price-Anderson maintained a limit on operator liability, but did not maintain the industry risk sharing scheme. Until 1975, the Act limited liability for any single nuclear incident to $560 million. The unit operator was responsible for $60 million, and the federal government was responsible for the next $500 million. Following amendments and revisions in the program, the federal indemnity role has effectively ended.

61. Ibid., p.127.

62. Ibid., pp. 127-128.

63. Ibid., p. 128.

64. Ibid., p. 128.

65. Ibid., p. 36.

66. Jeffrey Dubin and Geoffrey Rothwell, "Subsidy to Nuclear Power Through Price-Anderson Liability Limit," Contemporary Policy Issues, Vol. VIII, No. 3, July 1990, p. 76. The subsidy calculation was based on the NRC's 1985 assumption that a worst case scenario accident had a .0000008 percent chance of occurring, and that such a worst case accident would cause property damage of no more than $10 billion.

67. Milton Benjamin, "NRC Issues Report, Withhold Worst-Case Estimates," The Washington Post, November 2, 1982.

68. The Price-Anderson Act -- Crossing the Bridge to the Next Century: A Report to Congress, Division of Reactor Program Management, p.128.

69. Congressional Budget Office, Assessing the Public Costs and Benefits of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, May 1996, Summary Table 1.

70. Ibid.

71. Ibid.

72. Ibid., p. 35.

73. The GSE Report, Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office, June 11, 1999.

74. William Hartung, U.S. Weapons at War: United States Arms Deliveries to Regions of Conflict, New York: World Policy Institute, May 1995. Hartung identified the Pentagon's Military Financing Program, the Defense Department's Excess Defense Articles program, the State Department's Economic Support Funds, the Export-Import Bank's "dual use" loan program and waivers of recoupment fees (designed to recoup payments to defense companies for R&D for domestic purposes) as among the arms export subsidy programs.

75. The jobs argument is further undermined by the fact that the U.S. arms exporters are increasingly pledging to foreign buyers that they will build their weapons in the purchasers' markets. These so-called "offsets" now amount to more than three-quarters of the value of U.S. arms sales, according to the Commerce Department, meaning that the economic benefits of the deals are being realized overseas, not in the United States. Hartung, U.S. Weapons at War.

76. Oscar Arias, "Stopping America's Most Lethal Export," The New York Times, June 23, 1999.

77. Senator Mark Hatfield, Statement to the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, May 23, 1995.

78. See Green Scissors '99: Cutting Wasteful and Environmentally Harmful Spending, Washington, D.C.: Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and U.S. Public Interest Research Group, 1999.

79. See William Hartung, Military-Industrial Complex Revisited: How Weapons Manufacturers are Shaping U.S. Foreign and Military Policies, Washington, D.C.: Interhemispheric Resource Center and Institute for Policy Studies, November 1998, available at ... index.html .

80. For a comprehensive review of fraud and waste, see A. Ernest Fitzgerald, The Pentagonists: An Insider's View of Waste, Mismanagement and Fraud in Defense Spending, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989; and Andy Pasztor, When the Pentagon Was for Sale: Inside America's Biggest Defense Scandal, New York: Scribner, 1995.

81. Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense, Commercial Spare Parts Purchased on a Corporate Contract, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, January 1999. For other recent reports on fraud and abuse at the Pentagon, see "Pentagon's Fraud Defenses Weak, Two GAO Reports Say," The Washington Post, September 29, 1998.

82. Defense contractors spent $8.5 million in the 1997-1998 electoral cycle on campaign contributions and nearly $50 million in 1997 on lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. See .

83. In their April 1999 report, Road to Ruin, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Friends of the Earth provide a list a roads projects they have found to be the most wasteful.

84. Korinna Horta, "The Exxon-Shell-ELF-World Bank Plans for Central Africa," Multinational Monitor, May 1997.
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RALPH NADER has co-founded numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, Essential Information, Commercial Alert, the Center for Auto Safety, and the Center for Women's' Policy Studies. Green Party Presidential candidate for the year 2000, Ralph Nader continues to be a relentless force for grassroots activism and democratic change in the United States.

WINONA LADUKE is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation and is the mother of three children. As Program Director of the Honor the Earth Fund, she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support and create funding for frontline Native Environmental groups. She also works as Founding Director for White Earth Land Recovery Project; a reservation-based non-profit focused on land, cultural, and environmental issues. She is the 2000 Green Party candidate for vice-president, an author of two books and numerous articles and a graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities.
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