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Revoking BP’s Charter

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

Some would criminally prosecute BP America and its executives for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Others would debar BP from federal contracts.

But a group called Green Change is calling for the corporate death penalty.

It is calling on the state of Delaware to revoke BP’s corporate charter.

“BP deserves the corporate death penalty,” Green Change co-founder Gary Ruskin told Corporate Crime Reporter last week. “ BP America Inc. does not have a God given right to perpetually violate our laws with near impunity.”

“Look at BP’s record. The Gulf of Mexico catastrophe. Three environmental crimes, one deferred prosecution agreement, and a very long string of big fines and other wrongdoing.”

“There comes a point when enough is enough. Our nation should not have to tolerate any more abuse from this company. No more deaths, no more catastrophes, no more giant pollution disasters.”

“The corporate death penalty will remove BP America Inc. from the field of action. It will stop their carelessness and lawlessness – for sure.”

“If our laws mean anything at all, we’ve got to draw a line in the sand and say that if you violate our laws again and again, you will lose your charter.”

“Deterrence is very important. We’ve got to revoke BP’s charter to deter other companies from acting with such carelessness.”

“If we don’t, then we basically invite other companies to cut corners everywhere, and disregard the law, because the consequences won’t be worth worrying about.”

“We can expect that the threat of charter revocation will make companies act with greater respect for environmental, health and safety laws.”

“Severe wrongdoing deserves severe punishment. When a company does something as awful as the carelessness that lead to the Macondo oil rig blowout and disaster, they deserve the corporate death penalty.”

“This is a simple matter of justice and of the dignity of our society, and really, of all of us.”

Ruskin sent letters last week to the leaders of the Delaware legislature and to Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden – the son of Vice President Joseph Biden.

“Serial corporate criminals are willing to kill people and wildlife, poison the water and land, and then pay the relevant fines, because it is more profitable to do so than to respect life, wildlife, health, the environment and the law,” Ruskin wrote. “It is for this reason that ordinary legal and regulatory action and fines cannot correct their behavior – drastic and permanent punitive actions are the only appropriate measures. In this case, the proper penalty is to revoke the corporate charter of BP America Inc.”

Attorney General Biden’s office and the leaders of the Delaware legislature did not return calls seeking comment.

The Delaware General Assembly can revoke BP America’s charter outright.

The Delaware Attorney General is empowered to ask the Delaware Court of Chancery to revoke BP America’s charter, Ruskin said.

Ruskin said that as far as he knew, no for-profit corporate charter has been revoked by Delaware.

But it has happened elsewhere.

“In the 1990’s, some Florida stock brokerage companies involved in pump-and-dump schemes had their charters revoked or dissolved for failure to file annual reports,” Ruskin said.

“In 2001, the Texas Secretary of State revoked the charter of Lionheart Newspapers for nonpayment of franchise taxes.”

“But I am not familiar with any cases involving large corporations, or multinational corporations, in modern times,” Ruskin said.

Since, there has been no adjudication of wrongdoing yet, and Ruskin is already calling for the death penalty for BP, isn’t Ruskin a little concerned that he’s getting ahead of the game?

“There hasn’t been adjudication, but BP has admitted they are responsible for the oil spill. Tony Hayward said that BP is ‘absolutely responsible’ for the spill,” Ruskin said.

“We know already from one month of news stories about the recklessness of the company and how they cut corners and their misconduct. There is extensive evidence of this. Look at the Wall Street Journal’s investigation of the oil rig blowout on May 27th. And read the letter from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to Tony Hayward. It’s devastating. It lays out lots of evidence that ‘BP repeatedly chose risky procedures in order to reduce costs and save time and made minimal efforts to contain the added risk.’”

“Also, a quarter owner of the rig – Andarko – said that the blast resulted from BP’s reckless operation. How much more evidence do we need? There is ample evidence that this company has an awful corporate culture – from its record of accidents, from its lawlessness, and from its own internal reviews that told it to be much more careful about obeying environmental and safety laws.”

Why is there such strong support in America for the death penalty for individuals – but we rarely hear about the death penalty for corporations?

“There are lots of reasons,” Ruskin says.

“There is a tremendous amount of media attention devoted to street crime, but very little to corporate crime. Why? Most media outlets carry advertising, and I’ll bet that giant corporations will be less likely to advertise in newspapers and magazines that advocate for the corporate death penalty.”

“And so many of our news outlets are part of big media conglomerates that don’t want to promote any discussion of the corporate death penalty.”

“Second, because we have a corrupt campaign finance system at the federal level and in most of our states.”

“Since so many of our elected officials get so much of their campaign contributions from corporate officials, they are not willing to bite the hand that keeps them in office.”

“Third, because corporate crime is more complicated than street crime.”

“Fourth, because companies spend a huge amount of money in advertising to make us all think that they are great corporate citizens.”

“Fifth, because the Justice Department doesn’t adequately publicize statistics about corporate crime and trends in corporate crime.”

“When you add it all up, our elected officials act like the most permissive kindergarten teacher in the world, when it comes to punishing corporate crime and violence.”

Don’t we lose leverage over BP if we revoke its corporate charter?

“I think you gain leverage,” Ruskin says. “If BP America is put in receivership, the company will find it harder to advocate for its own interests, because they won’t really exist anymore. Its assets would be sold off to pay the creditors, like people in the Gulf states.”

Most Americans would think that if they start a business, it belongs to them, not to the government. But you believe a corporation is a creature of the state and serves the state?

“Yes. Corporations are artificial entities created by states. States grant them powers and privileges, as a part of their corporate charter. These powers and privileges are revocable. States do not, or should not, charter companies so that they can break our laws. When a corporation abuses its charter, for example, by repeatedly violating the law, its charter should be revoked, to put an end to its lawlessness.”

RUSSELL MOKHIBER is editor of Corporate Crime Reporter.

[For a complete transcript of the Interview with Gary Ruskin, see 24 Corporate Crime Reporter 26(13), June 28, 2010, print edition only.]

 

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Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

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