How to Fight Corporate Crime

by Ralph Nader

Can anybody in Washington do what needs to be done about corporate crime in the eight weeks before the November elections?

Don’t look to the Republicans. Their “whatever corporations want” subservient stance during the Nineties reached levels somewhere between unconditional surrender and unconditional sell out. The former pesticide exterminator, House Republican Whip, Tom Delay (R-TX) once declared that he could not think of one regulation to keep on the law books. De-regulate everything in sight was their fevered mantra — including taking the federal cops off the corporate crime beats. Getting rid of corporate law and order, pushing to lock up the corporate cops and throwing away the keys became the Republicans’ inventory to raise huge piles of cash from the corporate malefactors.

The Democrats, while as a whole not as obeisant, did not throw the gauntlet down either. Also some Democrats, like Senators Lieberman and Dodd, locked arms with the Republicans to take away important rights to sue held by shareholders until 1995. Yes, there are some politicians who know full well the stands that they can take and should take.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) is one of them — a tough crackdown on U.S. corporations who renounce their U.S. state charter, reincorporate in Bermuda or other tax haven, escape gobs of taxes to Uncle Sam yet retain all the benefits as if they were still U.S. corporations. Dorgan says he will have hearings on this subject. One of the lead proposals will be to stop these companies from receiving government contracts and subsidies.

But who will provide by law more powers and rights to shareholders to control the corporation that they own? Shareholders in large public companies must be given the authority to approve or disapprove executive compensation packages. It has been executive pay that provided the bosses with the incentives to cook the books and inflate company profits so as to make their stock options and other bonuses more lucrative. Facilities to make it easier for consumers, taxpayers and shareholders to band together voluntarily into powerful self-help are also needed.

A more immediate opportunity comes very soon when the House and Senate votes on the Justice Department appropriations bill. At least fifty million dollars should be added to expand the corporate crime prosecution section in the Department. There is no way that the Justice Department can go after corporate crooks with its meager staff and, certainly, no way can it respond to the recommendations for prosecution by the beefed up Securities and Exchange Commission. More federal cops on the corporate beat, and the establishment of a corporate crime database are necessary to make law and order happen and to help save millions of Americans their investments, savings, pensions and jobs.

Rolling back the failed de-regulation of the financial industry which opened the floodgates to reckless, avaricious crimes and frauds in the Nineties is also necessary. Derivatives should be brought under regulation as should electricity (a necessity). It was de-regulation that allowed the Enronitis disease which gouged Californians and others and which eventually brought down Enron and cost thousands of workers their jobs.

These and other positions could help stem the tide of corporate power and benefit consumers, workers, and shareholders. For more information on these and other reforms visit http://www.citizenworks.org.

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