The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Phone: (202) 588-1000

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman on ...

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman on ...

Corporate influence over national policy


Public Citizen President Robert Weissman on ...

Corporate influence over national policy

"There is a common link between the policy failure to impose
meaningful restraints on Wall Street, drug companies marketing unsafe
drugs, a deeply flawed climate bill, a dysfunctional health insurance
system that results in 18,000 preventable deaths a year, cable
companies' ability to impose onerous contractual terms, and a global
trading system that undermines our government's authority to adopt
consumer, environmental and worker protections. That common link is
excessive and unchecked corporate power. Public Citizen has always been
a leader not only in addressing issues directly related to health,
safety and environmental protection, but also in working directly to
curb excessive corporate power.

"I hope to help us continue to challenge - and break down - the
false boundaries corporations have successfully imposed on policy
debates. In healthcare, the Obama administration and congressional
leaders have refused to consider the only approach - a
Medicare-for-All, single-payer system - that can cure the system's dual
ills: runaway costs and denial of coverage to tens of millions. In
climate, the legislation that has passed the House of Representatives
utterly fails to produce the economic transformation that the science
tells us we must undergo to avert climate catastrophe. In financial
regulation, the banks have defeated the most important legislative
proposals to mitigate the mortgage epidemic - leading Senate Majority
Whip Dick Durbin to say the banks 'own the place.' The banks have
announced they intend to "kill" the most important regulatory proposal
from the Obama administration - a proposed new financial consumer
protection agency. Our job at Public Citizen is to refuse to let
corporations impose these kinds of limits on policymaking."

Climate change

"Climate change is the greatest threat to the well-being of the
planet and its people. It is going to be the defining issue of the next
50 years - and the world is right now on a terribly worrisome

"It is good to have an administration that acknowledges the reality
of climate change and wants to address it, but the proposals on the
table are woefully inadequate. King Coal, Big Oil and the utilities,
among other industrial and agribusiness interests, have joined together
to, so far, thwart an appropriate policy response.

"There is great opportunity in responding to the crisis, with more
attention to the vibrancy of local communities, the creation of
millions and millions of new jobs, greater equity, and a sense of
shared national and global mission.. New efficiency and energy
technologies can be the engine for an economy that has lost its drivers
- which, for this decade, were the financial sector and housing.
Decentralized generation and distribution offer the possibility for
more independent and livable communities.

"But to respond to the crisis will require first recognizing it for
what it is - not just another in the list of important issues, but an
existential threat to the planet. We - all of us together, with
government in the lead - have to mobilize resources and organizational
might commensurate with the scale of the threat. In the United States,
we have to mobilize the way the country did for World War II.

"Public Citizen brings a long history of working on climate-related
policies like fuel economy standards, subsidies for fossil fuels,
stopping new coal plant construction, and promoting the development of
solar and renewable energy technologies. We are going to build on that
tradition and leverage our collective expertise in matters from global
trade to administrative law. We are going to engage our members and
allies so that together we build a strong citizen movement to overcome
the fossil fuel lobby and avert climate catastrophe."

The financial crisis

"Through its avarice and recklessness, Wall Street has sunk us into
the worst recession of the past 70 years - and, not so incidentally,
destroyed many of its leading firms. Those that survive are dependent
on the trillions of dollars in public funds used to bail out Wall
Street and the big banks.

"Yet rather than express shame and apologize, these institutions
continue to dominate the policymaking debate. Senator Durbin says the
banks "own the place," in the context of their defeat of mortgage
cramdown legislation - a modest measure to address foreclosures that
would very likely benefit banks but would contravene their ideological
opposition to adjusting loan principle. The banking industry openly
announces its plans to 'kill' the most significant Obama
administration financial regulatory proposal - to create a new
financial consumer protection agency.

"We need a smaller financial sector. We need to shrink the size of
the giant banks, impose meaningful restraints on compensation for
executives and highly paid employees (because pay packages incentivized
reckless risk-taking), impose a financial transaction tax, empower
consumers, and offer much more institutional support for community
development banks and credit unions."
Health care reform

"The richest country in the world spends far more than other wealthy
nations on healthcare (at least 50 percent more than every country
except Luxembourg) but sports middling health indicators. It permits 45
million people to live without health insurance, denying them access to
preventative and routine care, resulting in the death of 18,000 people
a year. It tolerates private health insurance companies making
life-and-death rationing decisions for millions of people with only
minimal accountability. It lets private health insurers refuse to take
sick people as customers and engage in endless manipulations to discard
its customers if they do become sick. It features a system in which
medical bills and illness contribute to almost two out of three
personal bankruptcies - even though three-quarters of these bankrupt
people had insurance when they became sick.

"There is a cure all for these ills. It is a Medicare-for-All,
single-payer system, in which everyone is guaranteed access to
healthcare as a matter of right and the government pays medical bills
(thus operating as the "single payer").

"Unfortunately, instead of advocating for this approach - which
President Obama supported as a state senator, and which he still says
would be superior if the system was being designed from scratch - the
Obama administration has sought to reach an accommodation with the
insurance industry, hospitals and Big Pharma."

Money in politics/public financing of elections

"We now have a president eager to take on the big issues -
healthcare, climate change, financial regulatory reform. But in each
case, things are going very wrong. That's because of excessive
corporate power in general, and the distorting power of corporate money
in politics in particular. Indeed, the extraordinarily serious problems
with health care, climate and the financial system are traceable in
large part to money in politics. Wall Street invested more than $5
billion in campaign contributions and lobbying in the decade preceding
the financial meltdown, for example. That money bought them a series of
deregulatory moves that paved the way for the financial meltdown. Now,
with it no longer possible to deny that these problems need addressing,
corporate money is working - all too successfully - to prevent
meaningful remedies.

"With the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court appears poised to
make a bad situation much worse. The court may permit corporations to
spend unlimited amounts of money from the company treasury to support
electoral candidates. Such a decision will unleash a tsunami of
corporate money - probably the best investment a business can make - to
slant elections in favor of corporate-friendly candidates. That money
not only will affect the outcome of races, it will further lead
candidates to engage in self-censorship when they risk offending
powerful business interests.

"Running effective campaigns that engage voters costs money. But it
is equally obvious that elections funded by private money give
disproportionate influence to the wealthy. The simple solution is to
treat elections as a public good (we do, after all, still have public
financing of the electoral apparatus itself) and to provide public
financing for candidates."

Pending free trade agreements

"Designed by the world's largest corporations, our global trading
system benefits those who designed it. Trading rules, including those
in existing and pending free trade agreements, strip power away from
democratically elected governments. Trade rules prevent our federal
government and our states (as well as other governments) from
protecting consumers and the environment. They interfere with efforts
to promote community development and the preservation of good-paying
jobs. They give pharmaceutical companies the right to price gouge the
world's poor, and help agribusiness eliminate family farms.

"When it comes to trade, we need a redirection. We need trade rules
that enhance democracy and ensure that trade advances rather than
undermines the things we want from an economy: safe products,
good-paying jobs and decent livelihoods, vibrant communities and a
healthy planet.

"The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment
(TRADE) Act offers us a way to achieve this redirection. There is
overwhelming public support for the course correction that the TRADE
Act would achieve; the only question is whether the public can be
organized to overcome the entrenched interests supporting the trade
status quo."

The state of the regulatory system

"Whether it comes to health and safety, environmental protection or
maintaining a working financial system that serves all people, our
regulatory system is broken. It is the victim of more than two decades
of deregulatory ideology, misguided court decisions, inappropriate
budget cutbacks, inappropriate reliance on partnership with industry,
distorted cost-benefit analyses and simple corporate capture.

"We need more funding for regulatory agencies - which more than pays
for itself in injuries and illness prevented, lives saved and
environmental space preserved. We need to validate the work of food
inspectors and drug regulators who help keep us safe. We need to ensure
regulatory independence, and empower and direct regulatory agencies to
prioritize their health, safety and related missions over accommodating
the industries they regulate. We need to make sure the courts remain
available for victims of corporate violence, irrespective of whether
their actions were blessed by regulators. And we need to organize and
create mechanisms so citizens can band together to hold regulators (and
the corporations they regulate) accountable."

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

(202) 588-1000