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The Presidential Pipeline

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on December 21st, 2005
CorpWatch Blog

The Pultizer Prize-winning and yet still oddly underappreciated Toledo Blade ran a penetrating series this week on how specific Bush fundraisers have seen their investments in the cadidate reap profitable policies. It's worth a read as a primer on exactly how corporate executives and lobbyists buy influence legally ... and sometimes not-so-legally.

For example, Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim is chairman of Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride, the country's second biggest poultry processor, and a Bush "Pioneer" (meaning he has raised over $100,000 for Bush. He freely admits he asked the president directly for a favor in 2002. And quite a favor it was: Pilgrim asked Bush to speak to Russian president Vladimir Putin about dropping that country's ban on chickens imported from the United States. Shortly thereafter, Russia opened its markets to American chickens. Pilgrim's company has also collected $60 million in federal monies since Bush took office for selling his birds to the Department of Agriculture.

And then there's MBNA, the massive credit-card company which eclipsed Enron last year as the largest corporate patron of Bush's entire political career. The company regularly let the Bush campaign use its corporate jet. It was MBNA's generosity in Bush's campaigns that may have persuaded the president to push through a revamping of the nation's personal bankruptcy laws. The result: $380 million a year annually toward MBNA's bottom line. (See CorpWatch coverage of MBNA here.)

Read the whole series:

  1. Presidential Pipeline: Bush's Top Fund-Raisers See Spoils of Victory
  2. Presidential Pipeline: Bush Money Network Rooted in Florida, Texas
  3. Presidential Pipeline: Kerry Backers Still Feel Sting of Losing 2004 Presidential Contest

US Lags Behind in Tobacco Regulation

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on December 20th, 2005
CorpWatch Blog

It isn't new for the United States to fall behind the rest of the world on causes like global warming and arms control. But this week, news from the rest of the world reveals how much more seriously the tobacco problem is being addressed, even in the tiny, poverty-stricken country of Uganda.

The government of Uganda is considering banning all tobacco advertising in that country, because ministers consider the ads to imply falsely that smoking is an attractive and positive thing to do.

In China, the world's greatest consumer of tobacco products, the governors of Hong Kong may force several tobacco companies to change the names of their brands, because terms like "light" and "mild" imply that the cigarettes are less harmful.

In South Australia, the government is set to ban fruit-flavored cigarettes it claims are targeted to children. (You think?)

In the UK, the 2006 budget includes provisions for massive fines on tobacco companies whose product is found being smuggled anywhere in the world.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ... a new study from a coalition of anti-tobacco groups shows that tobacco companies in the United States still spend $28 in advertising for every $1 they spend on anti-tobacco cessation and education programs.

After a series of high-profile lawsuits that mandated some of Big Tobacco's profits go to public service education campaigns, the industry has spent a lot of time and money advertising its altruistic side, while far less is being spent actually funding those community programs being hyped.

And there is always more. Just yesterday, a study showed that Indiana -- a major tobacco-growing state -- actually loses money because of tobacco. Profits and tax revenue generated by tobacco production and sales is far outweighed by the resulting costs associated with health-care and decreased productivity due to tobacco-related illness and death.

But even with such evidence, tobacco companies are freer in the US than many other parts of the world. Appeals have shrunk the monetary awards resulting from those suits to negligible amounts, and tobacco again looks untouchable in this country. Last week the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a lower-court verdict penalizing Philip Morris over $10 million for defrauding customers into thinking its "light" cigarettes were less dangerous.

As ever, it keeps friends in high places to ensure that regulations like those in Uganda, China, and Australia do not happen at home. For example, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds reportedly supplied now-sullied Texas Senator Tom DeLay with their corporate jets as he flew from campaign fundraiser to campaign fundraiser.

From an Associated Press story today:

R.J. Reynolds let DeLay use a company plane at least nine times since 1999, once joining Philip Morris in making jets available for a DeLay PAC fundraiser at a Puerto Rican resort in winter 2002. R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard said planes are loaned usually at lawmakers' request and are only done if jets aren't needed for company business.

"It's much more convenient as opposed to your regular commercial travel," Howard said, noting there is no need to go through airport security.

On R.J. Reynolds' planes, smoking is allowed and there are usually beverages and deli-style food. There's more leg room and the convenience of phones.

The smoking rule suits DeLay, who likes to chomp on cigars while golfing and reported spending at least $1,930 in PAC money on cigar-shop purchases. The cigars were reported to the Federal Election Commission as donor gifts.

It's business as usual in Marlboro country.

Is Wal-Mart Good for You?

Posted by Brooke Shelby Biggs on June 27th, 2005

"Progressive" economist Jason Furman and Barbara Ehrenreich are currently engaged in an eye-opening dialogue over at Slate. He presents the old red-herring argument that boild down to "What do you elitist liberals have against saving working people money?"

He makes some points I'll concede that I think critics should internalize: it isn't the low prices we object to, it's the way Wal-Mart treats people. If anything, the efficiencies that allow Wal-Mart to have such low prices do not require that the company abuse its employees, fail to provide a living wage or the most basic benefits, or to source product from factories that abuse people oversees. Wal-Maerts low prices, and its low regard for its own employees has been proven to depress wages in the communities where it operates. If Wal-Mart is so clever, why doesn't it innovate when it comes to how it treats human beings? Why doesn't it spend as much money actually improving communities as it does telling us about how it improves communities?

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