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The Trumpy Awards, Round Four: Worst Corporate Giveaway

There are literally dozens of egregious anti-consumer, anti-environment and anti-worker measures that the judges considered but were unable to include on this list.

"The companies understand well who is buttering their bread." (Photo: jerry dohnal/flickr/cc)

"The companies understand well who is buttering their bread." (Photo: jerry dohnal/flickr/cc)

Donald Trump has handed control of our government to giant corporations. The CEO class may find him to be a “buffoon,” but they’re happy with the favors he’s raining down on Big Business and quite happy to normalize his corporate extremist policies.

Trump has appointed a Cabinet stuffed with billionaires and corporate executives, and put in place second- and third-tier appointees drawn overwhelmingly from the corporate sector.

Collectively, they are delivering for the corporate sector, bigly – but with harsh consequences for the rest of us.

Today’s Trumpy nominations are for Worst Corporate Giveaway. You can vote here.

As with many of the Trumpy categories, the judges had a hard time winnowing the list of potential nominees. There are literally dozens of egregious anti-consumer, anti-environment and anti-worker measures that the judges considered but were unable to include on this list. And so, the judges have decided to confer special awards in each of these categories throughout the coming year.

The judges also had to address the elephant in the room, the Trump tax scam. Constituting one of the greatest single transfers of wealth to the corporate sector in American history, it dominated the Worst Corporate Giveaway discussion. In an unprecedented move, the judges decided to confer a special Historic Catastrophe Award on the tax scam, but remove it from Worst Corporate Giveaway category.

There remain four exceedingly qualified nominees:

Net Neutrality Repeal: A Corporate Chokehold on Speech and the Internet. Led by Chair Ajit Pai, who previously worked at Verizon, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in December to kill Net Neutrality. That means it will be legal for companies like Comcast and Verizon to block, censor or control what we see and do online.

The giant cable companies have been fighting against Net Neutrality for years. The FCC finally resolved the issue to protect consumers and our democracy at the end of the Obama administration. But Trump and his FCC Chair Pai conspired to overturn the rule.

The case for Net Neutrality is overwhelming – it’s the case for a free and open Internet. With Net Neutrality, users are able to access whatever they choose over the Internet. Verizon or Comcast don’t get to censor or block politically disfavored sites. They don’t get to slow service or charge more for looking at a competitor’s video or news service. Consumers get to see or do what they want, and the Internet Service Providers don’t get to block competition.

At the FCC, the fix was in – the industry bias too strong to overcome based on evidence or overwhelming public support for Net Neutrality. Advocates are trying to overturn the FCC’s action in Congress and in the courts, but for now the cable and cellular companies have hijacked control of the Internet.

Private Prisons: Cruel and Unusual. Belatedly, at the end of its second term, the Obama administration moved to end federal reliance on private prisons. The policy rationale was compelling: With a declining federal prison population, the purported justification for using private prisons was eroding; private prisons rip off taxpayers; and, most troublingly, private prisons have more security and safety issues than publicly run ones.

A 2016 report by the Inspector General for the Justice Department found, for example, that “the contract prisons confiscated eight times as many contraband cell phones annually on average as the BOP [Bureau of Prison] institutions. Contract prisons also had higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff.” A July 2016 expose by reporter Shane Bauer in Mother Jones offered a less antiseptic analysis, providing gruesome detail of the misconduct that is standard in private prisons. On the merits, committing to phasing out private prisons was a no-brainer.

But then came Tough Guy Jeff Sessions to the Justice Department. He announced in February 2017 that the Obama move “impaired” the ability of the department to deal with future needs – presumably, locking up many more people – and he rescinded the Obama policy. There are very discrete and identifiable beneficiaries of this policy reversal, namely the GEO Group and Core Civic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). Their stock tripled after Trump was elected; and although their share prices have fallen from peaks last year, they are still nearly double what they had been before the 2016 election.

The companies understand well who is buttering their bread. Geo held a major conference at a Trump golf club and donated $225,000 to a Trump-supporting super PAC. CoreCivic donated a quarter million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Geo Group spent $1.7 million on lobbying in 2017, a 70 percent jump from the previous year.

CFPB’s Forced Arbitration Rule: Rip-Off Clauses Return. In July, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a rule to deny banks and financial companies the freedom to rip off consumers. The CFPB’s forced arbitration rule would have prevented banks and others from including in the fine-print terms of their contracts provision preventing aggrieved consumers from joining together in class action lawsuits.

The CFPB undertook an expansive study before acting, and found that inclusion of forced arbitration provisions in contracts – rip-off clauses – effectively give banks and financial companies the ability to steal small amounts from large numbers of consumers with impunity. The CFPB found that:

  • Consumers initiate only 600 arbitrations annually.
  • Almost no one files individual arbitration cases for small claims – there are 25 cases a year involving claims of less than $1,000. Thus, banks and financial firms can get away with small-dollar swindles that can easily total tens of millions or more when affecting millions of consumers.
  • By contrast, between 2002 and 2012, 32 million consumers a year, on average, were eligible for relief through class-action settlements in federal court, totaling $220 million in payments a year.

And that’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and financial services companies lobbied so hard for congressional action to overturn the CFPB rule. Following a heartbreakingly close Senate vote in which Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaker, Trump signed the repeal, “winning praise from banking and business groups” who attended the signing ceremony.

Clean Power Plan Repeal: Let the Planet Burn. In 2015, the Obama administration issued its exceedingly modest Clean Power Plan. It aimed to cut carbon emissions from power plants by nearly a third by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels. The plan’s targets are far, far short of what climate scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, and far, far short of what could be achieved with existing technology and sufficient political will. But it was important in moving the United States in the right direction, and establishing a platform upon which more aggressive carbon cuts could be mandated later.

But the Dirty Energy companies have their guy, Scott Pruitt, in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In October, he moved to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan was a win for almost everyone and every industry except for coal. Not only would it reduce climate risk, it would lessen other air pollution besides carbon, saving thousands of lives and preventing tens of thousands of illnesses. And, it would significantly reduce household electric bills. A Public Citizen study found the rule would lower bills in nearly every individual state by 2025, and all states by 2030 – and by as much as 20 percent in some states.

Reflecting the modesty of the Clean Power Plan’s goals and the reality that coal is increasingly uneconomical, the United States already has achieved more than three-quarters of the plan’s targeted emission reductions – just two years in, and with 13 to go.

But Scott Pruitt seems much more concerned with the views of the Coal Baron and climate denialist Robert Murray than helping consumers, averting illness or helping address what is arguably the greatest threat humanity has ever known.

Which of these qualifies for the Worst Corporate Giveaway? Vote here.

And don’t to forget to vote for:

Cruelest Action.

Worst Corrupting Conflict of Interest.

Worst Assault on Democracy.

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Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world.

 

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