Friday, November 12, 2010

How Does Mixing Business with Politics Differ from Corruption and Bribery?

Most people would disapprove of corruption. It is one of those things people think are bad. Yet few of these same people realize that politically connected firms get massive benefits from their sponsoring of favored candidates in elections, once their favorites get into government. The bailouts of the banks deemed “too big to fail” are the latest and most obvious example.

A study by Russell Crook and David Woehr of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, found that when firms engage in corporate political activities, such as lobbying and making campaign contributions, they get roughly 20 percent higher profits. So, to fatten your company’s profits, donate to a political campaign!

The analysis of 7,000 firms over various time periods, showed what led them into corporate political activity. The larger the firm, the more likely it was to be politically active, and politicians closer to power, more able to influence policy and legislation, were more likely to receive corporate donations. Incumbents more often got money than new candidates.

Yet in January 2010, the US Supreme Court in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission overturned an old ruling limiting corporate donations to politicians. It gave the nod to higher levels of corporate political influence. Consequently, corporate political donations will be subject to less scrutiny and transparency, and it will be all the harder to know who is sponsoring whom, and to what amount. Crook said:

Given this, we think that the Supreme Court ruling means that corporations and politicians will develop closer relationships than ever before.

In fact, corporations have already donated more money to politicians in the recent elections than ever before, despite the parlous state of the US economy. It reflects the money that big political donors seem to find quite readily to support supposedly grass roots Tea Parties, despite the country allegedly being on its uppers. Plainly the rich donors are not on their uppers.

Why then do corporate political donations lead to fatter profit margins? The corporate bosses do not like throwing money away to no purpose, so political corporate spending has a purpose, obviously. It is to get favorable legislation enacted. The donations are actually bribes! Besides the bank bailouts, another example was the “Copyright Term Extension Act”, sarcastically called, the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”, in which Disney successfully lobbied to extend US copyrights by 20 years.

Though Crook and Woehr are careful not to say these practices are corrupt, they plainly think they are a cause for concern to citizens. Sticking with the market model, Crook said:

We do not believe that this activity is illegal, but this activity constrains natural market forces and is thus undesirable. And with the new Supreme Court ruling, it is only going to get worse.

The journal, Financial Management, has also revealed that corruption is widespread in the corporate world, and has confirmed successful corporations are often the ones with the most extensive political connections.

Mara Faccio studied several thousand firms and found:

Politically connected firms have higher leverage in the form of preferential loans, pay lower taxes, have regulatory protection, are made eligible for government aid, and have stronger market power. They differ more dramatically from their peers when their political links are stronger, and in more corrupt countries, although these characteristics can be observed worldwide.

She alleges that connected firms appear to enjoy substantial favors from governments, distorting the allocation of public resources. “Firms with no political ties appear to be at a disadvantage”, so, it seems, the pressure is on for all firms to corrupt government! Her study was not restricted to the USA. She looked at 47 countries all together, but political influence by companies was common in both emerging and developed countries, although the methods of political influence varied somewhat.

These studies show that the ordinary voter is oblivious to the way that democracy is commonly swindled by political bribery and corruption, in the USA and in most other capitalist countries, whether advanced or developing. People consider corruption as wrong, but show no curiosity that it is happening daily, and the one who suffers in the end is Joe and Jane Doe, the common man and woman, you and me.

It is time this corrupt system was ended, and it is certain that right wingers dressing up as Captain America and in tricorn hats—led by the nose by private sponsors from among the rich—will not do it. A genuine grass roots movement is needed, and it will probably be led, as it is in France and latterly in Britain, by serious students and angry unemployed young people.

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