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Ralph Nader on Corporations

2004 Reform nominee; 2000 Green Candidate for President

Citizens' agenda for cracking down on corporate crime

Source: In the Public Interest, Ralph Nader's weekly column Oct 15, 2004

No eminent domain gifts to private enterprises

In 1980, Detroit was desperate for economic revitalization. General Motors offered to build a new complex if a suitable site could be found and given to GM. Detroit agreed that the best site was Poletown, a neighborhood consisting of second-generation Polish-Americans and African-Americans, [which was given to GM by eminent domain].

[In a reversal this week], the Michigan Supreme Court rejected the suggestion that "a vague economic benefit stemming from a private profit-maximizing enterprise is a 'public use.'" Rather, land may be seized and transferred to a private party only if "the property remains subject to public oversight after transfer to a private entity."

This decision makes good sense as a matter of constitutional law & fundamental fairness. People's homes can no longer be seized to achieve speculative benefits or to reward usually large corporate welfare kings. Courts nationwide should follow Michigan's lead and reestablish their rightful role in our constitutional system.

Source: "In the Public Interest" newspaper column Aug 6, 2004

Legislative "tort deform" for consumers, not corporations

Another tort deform bill has failed in the Senate this week. American consumers should be thankful that the "Class Action Fairness Act" was mired in election year posturing by both parties. Some, mainly Republicans & corporations, would have you believe that this is a "victory for trial lawyers." It is not. Sadly, this is not even that much of a victory for the aggrieved consumers who, as a result of the failed legislation, will retain access to their state judges and courts.

The reason we are seeing tort deformers push the myriad pieces of legislation that would immunize doctors from malpractice responsibility; that would protect oil companies from cleaning up polluting components of gasoline from our drinking water sources; or that would make more onerous the ability of class actions to succeed against wealthy cigarette manufacturers, asbestos manufacturers and other corporations, is because they need only establish a few federal legislative precedents to open the tort deform floodgates.

Source: "In the Public Interest" newspaper column Jul 10, 2004

Economic powers control our lives and our elections

Our country and its principles are abandoned by the very economic powers that control our destiny. Autocratic global corporations are deep into strategic planning. They openly and confidently strive to control our jobs; our environment; our political and educational institutions; our food, drugs, and other consumptions; our savings; our childhoods; our culture; even our genetic futures. Toward these ends, they incessantly move to control our elections and our governmental institutions.
Source: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader, p. 3 Jul 6, 2004

Capitalism can lead to fascism

[Quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt]: "The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of the government by an individual, by a group or any controlling private power."
Source: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader, p. 4 Jul 6, 2004

Corporations should not legally be counted as individuals

Whether we think in terms of justice under law or equal protection of the laws, it is untenable that artificial entities called corporations are given most of the constitutional rights of real humans while aggregating powers, privileges, and immunities that individuals, no matter how wealthy, could never come close to attaining The primacy of civic values, rooted in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, must become our common objective for the common good
Source: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader, p. 8 Jul 6, 2004

Giant corporations roam the Earth making people into serfs

Giant corporations roam the Earth, pitting societies against one another in search of the lowest costs from serf labor and other exactions from authoritarian regimes while pulling down standards of living in more democratic countries. This downward drift is accelerated by transnational, autocratic systems of commercial governance known as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)
Source: The Good Fight, by Ralph Nader, p. 10 Jul 6, 2004

Net worth is $3.8 million; owns corporate stocks

In June 2000, Nader released a document laying out his personal finances. Due to privacy concerns-his old bugaboo-Nader refused to make his tax returns public, a step taken by most candidates. As a compromise, the Federal Election Commission accepted a financial-disclosure document prepared by Nader himself.

Nader's net worth was $3.8 million as of June 2000. He owned $1.2 million in Cisco Systems stock and more than $100,000 worth of shares in Fidelity's Magellan Fund, which has stakes in defense contractors and business interests in South American rain forests. This, from a man who once urged GM's shareholders to revolt in an effort to force the company to be more socially responsible. Then again, Nader estimated during his presidential run that he had made $14 million since 1967. He gave the bulk of the money away, financing his own causes and numerous others. As always, Nader is full of contradictions inside of contradictions, like Chinese boxes.

Source: Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon, by Justin Martin, p. 241-242 Oct 1, 2002

Consumerism is about corporations vs. citizens

Nader's very first fight, and perhaps his most famous, was with General Motors. At the time, people pegged him for an auto safety crusader, exclusively. But Nader worked hard to wriggle out of that pigeonhole. He went on to address a vast litany of issues: unsanitary food preparation, flammable clothing, avaricious sports franchises, the limits of standardized testing.

If you get bumped from a plane and the airline provides you a voucher for another flight, thank Nader. When you get an X-ray and the technician covers you with a lead apron-again Nader deserves thanks.

The nest result of all Nader's frenetic activity was a full-blown movement, consumerism. The name is a bit misleading: consumerism is not just about the price of a cup of sugar, at least not at its core. It is more of a political and economic theory, born out of Nader's distinct observations about the ongoing struggle between corporations and individual citizens, producers and consumers.

Source: Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon, by J. Martin, p. xiii-xiv Sep 1, 2002

Shift power from corporations to consumers

What does Nader stand for? His raison d’etre for his candidacy: shifting power from “giant corporations, which have a grip over our government, environment, workplace, and marketplace” to “workers, consumers, taxpayers, and the voters of America.”
Source: Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe, page D1 Oct 8, 2000

Ralph Nader on Auto Safety

Auto safety devices are simple & cheap; but take years

When I started on motor vehicle safety issues back in the 1950s, what impressed me most was the simple nature of safety devices that were not in cars. For example, the padded dash panel that was invented by the makers of the Roman chariots in ancient Rome. The collapsible steering column was patented before WWI. Seat belts were available to pilots in WWI. When I started criticizing the auto companies for not putting these simple, lifesaving features in cars, that was considered a radical move by the auto companies and by quite a few commentators as well.

When studies showed that in frontal collisions, if you hit your head against the rearview mirror and it did not break away, it could be a fatal injury. It took us years to get the auto company executives to let their engineers do what they knew how to do and to put breakaway rearview mirrors in cars that we have today. All of these safety devices cost a pittance even on the first round of installation.

Source: Remarks to the Detroit Economic Club Oct 10, 2000

Safety regulation works; but Auto Safety Agency sold out

The enormous success in the first few years of the Auto Safety Agency’s administration [is] still to our benefit today. The death toll per 100 million vehicle miles in 1966 was 5.6 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles driven. Last year it was 1.6. So regulation does work, and a coordinated national effort to have everybody involved, address the problem, can diminish the problem.

What has happened now is that the Auto Safety Agency has become a consulting firm for the auto industry. The process started under Ronald Reagan and George Bush and continued unabated under the Clinton-Gore administration. With the exception of the airbag standard, there has been very little advance in automotive safety and fuel-efficiency technology in people’s motor vehicles in the last 20 years. The last statutory fuel-efficiency standard was established in 1975, and the goal was by 1985, a motor vehicle average fuel efficiency would be 27.5 miles per gallon

Source: Remarks to the Detroit Economic Club Oct 10, 2000

More regulation for auto safety, with criminal penalties

    We need, in this country, new motor vehicle statutory authorities, with the following amendments enacted by Congress:
  1. To put criminal penalties for knowing and willful violation of motor vehicle standards or knowing or willful refusal to recall known defective cars that are impairing human life.
  2. To increase the [maximum] civil penalties from $925,000 to $15 million.
  3. To require the testing before certifying for compliance with safety standards.
  4. To extend the statute of limitations. Right now if you have a car that is over eight years old, and the company discovers a serious defect, they don’t have to recall the vehicle. After eight years, they are in the clear.
  5. Now, [for] all of these and other knowing and willful criminal behavior, coverups, there is no criminal penalty. But if you are ever in Colorado or Wyoming and Idaho, and you get caught harassing a wild ass, you can go to jail for one year.
Source: Remarks to the Detroit Economic Club Oct 10, 2000

Cancel R&D giveaways to auto industry; let them do it

The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) is a public/private partnership between seven federal agencies and the big three automakers. The program represents an effort to coordinate the transfer of property rights for federally funded research and development to the automotive industry.

It is hard to imagine an industry less in need of government support than the highly capitalized auto industry, which is reporting record profits year after year. The government is supporting research that the industry would or should do on its own in response to market demands, or could easily be required to do in order to meet tougher environmental standards.

The PNGV is not the only example of a federal research program that should be eliminated. Research and development programs in areas like nuclear power and fossil fuels (among them the clean coal technology program) invest funds in undesirable non-renewable technologies. Such programs are not defensible.

Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 63 & 66 Oct 9, 2000

Gore has given auto industry and other polluters a free ride

Q: Why do you speak so harshly about Al Gore?

A: Gore said he was going to take on the auto industry. He gave the auto industry eight years of free ride on fuel efficiency standards, which have actually gone down; they’re at their lowest level since 1980-one reason for this oil price increase. He’s been weak on pesticides; given biotech industry a free ride; supported GATT and NAFTA, which are anti-environmental. He’s had eight years to convince us-we can’t believe him on that.

Source: Nader-Buchanan debate on ‘Meet the Press’ Oct 1, 2000

Motor vehicles are the greatest environmental hazard

Year after year, through its traumatic and polluting impact, the motor vehicle performs as the greatest environmental hazard in this country. The inceptions and consequences of this hazard do not conform neatly to municipal, county, and State boundaries. In terms of unused capacity, fuel consumption per passenger, injuries, pollution, and total time displacement of drivers and passengers, automotive travel is probably the most wasteful and inefficient mode of travel by industrial man.
Source:, “Auto Safety” Feb 21, 2000

DOT: Focus on safety and mass transit

Q: If you were president, how would you run the Department of Transportation differently?

A: I would make its mission safety, No. 1 -- whether it’s aviation, highway safety, motor vehicle safety. It isn’t No. 1 now. It’s basically a department that’s a consulting firm to the motor vehicle industry and all its component parts -- trucking industry, automobile manufacturers, the highway lobby, etc. It’s not enforcing the law. I would enforce the law.

I would dramatically expand investment in modern public transit. Instead of spending billions keeping our boys in Europe and East Asia to defend against nonexistent enemies on behalf of prosperous countries, I’d put that money into job production for public transit and other public works, like schools, clinics, sewage systems and drinking water systems.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday Interview, p. 3/Z1 Oct 13, 1996

Automakers avoid replacing internal combustion engines

Q: On the issue of pollution emissions tests and controls, you’ve commented, The more you try to control pollution at the end point, the more expensive it gets and the more pissed off people get with administrators and having to go and get their car inspected and get a sticker. So why isn’t it controlled at the point of production?

A: Because at the point of production the company has to change the product, whereas at the point of emission it’s more at the [consumer] end. It’s more, “You haven’t kept it up. You haven’t maintained it,“ etc. But also, if you control it at the emission point you don’t have to raise the question of displacing the internal combustion engine with a new propulsion system. You don’t have to answer the question why the auto companies have been promising electric cars for all these years. I saw it at the 1939 World’s Fair at the GM exhibit. And now the head of the Automobile Manufacturer’s Association is quoted in the press as saying it’s still ten years off.

Source: Alternative Radio, interview by David Barsamian Dec 8, 1995

Ralph Nader on Consumer Rights

Help for ordinary people should replace corporate welfare

Ralph Nader railed against big business from the heart of corporate America yesterday. Nader criticized New York City for offering multimillion-dollar tax breaks and other incentives to persuade the New York Stock Exchange to stay in Manhattan. “Here is this bastion of global capitalism on welfare. It will take hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in order to build them a new building. At the same time, hundreds of neighborhoods are suffering from inadequate funding of their vital needs.”
Source: Jayson Blair, NY Times Sep 1, 2000

Address corporate crimes piecemeal AND by revoking charters

Q: What are your views on Richard Grossman of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy? He criticizes the piecemeal, one-by-one approach of addressing corporate crimes and advocates revoking their charters to do business whenever they harm the common good.
A: I agree with both. I think you’ve got to do the retail law enforcement, which of course not only helps people immediately who are being harmed or cheated by these criminal violations or fraudulent behavior, but it informs people. Every time there’s a prosecution, every time there’s law enforcement, it informs people of the misdeeds of these corporations. On the other hand, you’ve got to go to the basic charter that state governments and in some respects the federal government provides to create these corporations and the conditioning of proper corporate behavior historically by these charters when they were given by legislatures in various states in the early part of the nineteenth century has been forgotten.
Source: Alternative Radio interview with David Barsamian Feb 23, 2000

Stop giving corporations the same rights as people

Q:Are you advocating reform, tinkering with the system, or would you support a fundamental overhaul?

A:When you have fundamental problems you’ve got to have fundamental overhauls. Right now corporations are treated as persons, just like flesh-and-blood individuals. A corporation, an artificial legal entity, [is treated] as a person having all the rights under our Constitution. It’s absurd. You can’t have equality under the law with General Motors and John and Jane Doe having the same rights, when Ralph Nader railed against big business from the heart of corporate America yesterday. Nader criticized New York City for offering multimillion-dollar tax breaks and other incentives to persuade the New York Stock Exchange to stay in Manhattan. “Here is this bastion of global capitalism on welfare. It will take hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in order to build them a new building. At the same time, hundreds of neighborhoods are suffering from inadequate funding of their vital needs.”

Source: Jayson Blair, NY Times Dec 9, 1995

Ralph Nader on Corporate Welfare

Scrutinize even “good” corporate welfare which helps public

If a program involves the government giving more to private companies than it gets back, then it should be considered corporate welfare. This definition suggests analytic inquiries other than whether a program is “good” or “bad.” It allows for the possibility of “good” corporate welfare-programs that confer subsidies on business but are merited because of overall public gain. There ARE cases of “good” corporate welfare, but these too should be subjected to proper procedural and substantive checks.
Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 31 Oct 9, 2000

Corporate welfare is a function of political corruption

Corporate welfare-the enormous and myriad subsidies, bailouts, giveaways, tax loopholes, debt revocations, loan guarantees, and other benefits conferred by government on business-is a function of political corruption. Corporate welfare programs siphon funds from appropriate public investments, subsidize companies ripping minerals from federal lands, enable pharmaceutical companies to gouge consumers, perpetuate anti-competitive oligopolistic markets, injure national security, & weaken our democracy.
Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 13 Oct 9, 2000

S&L bailout helped bankers & hurt consumers

Perhaps the largest corporate welfare expenditure of all time-ultimately set to cost taxpayers $500 billion in principal and interest-the savings and loan bailout is in a large part a story of political corruption, the handiwork of the industry’s legion of lobbyists and political payoffs to campaign contributors. The well-connected S&L industry successfully lobbied Congress for a deregulatory bill in the early 1980s, which the industry from historic constraints and paved the way for the speculative and corrupt failures that came soon after.

When Congress finally did address the problem, it put the bailout burden on the backs of taxpayers, rather than on the financial industry.

Congress even refused in the bailout legislation to include measures to empower consumers to band together into financial consumer associations-a modest quid pro quo that would have imposed zero financial cost and would have enabled consumers to act on their own to prevent future S&L-style crises and bailouts.

Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 15-16 Oct 9, 2000

Rules needed for examining & challenging corporate welfare

Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 29-30 Oct 9, 2000

Disallow benefits to companies except for public purposes

A series of inquisitive screens can be applied to corporate welfare programs, regardless of their merit:
  • Does the program serve some broad public purpose that suggests it has merits beyond the benefits it confers on particular companies? If not, the program should be cancelled.
  • If it does serve some public interest, can the government achieve the same ends by retaining an interest in an asset being given away of doing a service in-house?
  • Does the program involve functions that should be properly left to the market?
  • Is there any reason the government should not charge for services provided?Are there non-monetary reciprocal obligations that should be demanded? These might include reasonable pricing of government-subsidized goods and services provided to consumers.
  • Is the program subject to judicial challenge? What are the avenues for citizen challenge?
  • Is there an institutional means of periodic review? Are criteria delineated by which the program should be evaluated?
    Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 31-32 Oct 9, 2000

    Stadiums & other local tax abatements ignore small business

    Large corporations routinely pit states and cities against each other in bidding contests that are structurally biased in favor of Big Business. The price of their doing business, they communicate explicitly and implicitly, is massive subsidization by local and state authorities-through tax abatements, government financing of building projects, improper use of eminent domain, or other supports. This is corporate welfare in its rawest form.

    Among the most outrageous types of bidding for business involves sports stadiums. Now gambling casinos are looking for similar subsidies.

    Many tax breaks and abatements are directed to specific companies. They properly raise the public ire as citizens demand to know why the rich and powerful have taxes forgiven while local small businesses are required to pay their fair share without special dispensation. This should sharpen the cutting edge of a nascent movement to end corporate welfare as we know it.

    Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 35-36 Oct 9, 2000

    Federal regulation of state & local abatements & subsidies

      Some corrective policy initiatives to oppose local and state giveaways:
    1. States and localities should adopt a policy of annual disclosure of all corporate welfare recipients.
    2. Where state and local governments decide that taxpayer support for a business is necessary, they should include binding commitments that recipients deliver on job creation and other promises.
    3. Congress should encourage states to refuse to enter a race to the bottom against each other in terms of special tax breaks and related benefits.
    4. The federal government should levy a surtax on companies receiving state and local tax breaks, treating the tax breaks as income upon which federal tax should be paid.
    5. Finally, there must be court tests of the claim that the provision of tax subsidies and similar incentives distort economic decision-making concerning the location of business activity and therefore constitutes an unconstitutional infringement of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce.
    Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 44-45 Oct 9, 2000

    Bailouts: require payback; practice prevention by regulation

      The bailout, a premier form of corporate welfare, is yet another market distortion against the interests of small and medium-sized businesses. Bailouts are different from other corporate welfare categories in that they are ad hoc and unplanned. Some lessons from recent bailout experience:
    1. Congress should prioritize the issue of payback in full, after the company is nursed back to health.
    2. Monetary payback is not enough. Because the government is doing more than making a market-justified loan, it has the right to make demands designed to prevent the need for future bailouts.
    3. The S&L crisis was triggered in large part by industry deregulation. This should be an important cautionary note: that underregulation paves the way for bailouts, especially in the financial sector.
    4. Strong anti-trust policy and enforcement is a vital prophylactic against the emergence of too-big-to-fail institutions which are sure to benefit from a government bailout in the face of potential collapse.
    Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 69-71 Oct 9, 2000

    Legislation to eliminate all corporate welfare

    Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p.116-117 Oct 9, 2000

    $1000 bounty for suing for abuse of corporate welfare

    Citizen Standing to Sue to Challenge Corporate Welfare Abuses: Citizens could be empowered to mount judicial challenges to runaway agencies that reach beyond their statutory powers. Taxpayers could be given standing to file such suits, by awarding a $1,000 “bounty” (plus reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs) for those who successfully challenge improper agency action. Consideration should be given to creating an incentive for such suits by awarding successful plaintiffs a percentage of the money saved through such suits, perhaps according to a sliding scale of declining percentage returns for higher savings with a cap set at certain amounts. Just as qui tam suits under the False Claims Act have helped curtail oil company underpayment of royalties owed the federal government, so such a measure would create a structural counterbalance to corporate influence over federal agencies.
    Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p.118 Oct 9, 2000

    Big business influence hurts democracy

    Over the past twenty years we have seen the unfortunate resurgence of big business influence, generating its unique brand of wreckage, propaganda and ultimatums on American labor, consumers, taxpayers and most generically, American voters. Big business has been colliding with American democracy and democracy has been losing.
    Source: Nomination Acceptance Speech Jun 25, 2000

    Corporate sponsorship turns debates into beer commercials

    Complaining that corporate sponsorship is turning presidential debates into beer commercials, Ralph Nader and others filed a suit today against the Federal Election Commission over how the debates are financed. The suit, which the plaintiffs say could affect this fall’s presidential debates, says that corporate financing of the debates amounts to an illegal corporate campaign contribution. It asks the court to strike down the Federal Election Commission regulations that allow corporations - like Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser and a sponsor of this fall’s debates -- to contribute millions of dollars to the staging of the debates. “It’s turning our presidential debates into a beer commercial,” Nader said in a telephone interview. “And these companies are really sponsoring an exclusive to our campaign commercial for Bush and Gore.”
    Source: Carey Goldberg, NY Times, p. A20 Jun 20, 2000

    Corporate government has hijacked political leadership

    Over the past 20 years, big business has increasingly dominated our political economy. This control by the corporate government over our political government is creating a widening “democracy gap.” Active citizens are left shouting their concerns over a deep chasm between them and their government. This is a world away from the legislative milestones seen in the 60s and 70s. At that time, informed and dedicated citizens powered their concerns through the channels of government to produce laws that bettered the lives of millions of Americans.

    Today we face grave and growing societal problems in health care, education, labor, energy and the environment. These are problems for which active citizens have solutions, yet their voices are not carrying across the democracy gap. Citizen groups and individual thinkers have generated a tremendous capital of ideas and solutions, while our government has been drawn away from us by a corporate government. Our political leadership has been hijacked.

    Source: Green Party Announcement Speech Feb 21, 2000

    States & the public should oppose corporate tax breaks

    What are the possible remedies for the megabillion-dollar corporate welfare epidemic? State governments should agree among themselves not to engage in races to the bottom [via tax breaks]. And the national government should work to abolish such subsidies entirely. The public should initiate a constitutional challenge to tax inducements designed to lure companies across state lines. [Some scholars] argue that such actions violate the interstate commerce clause. It’s a sound argument
    Source: “In the Public Interest” newspaper column Apr 14, 1999

    Role of government is to counteract power of corporations

    I like Thomas Jefferson’s definition of government: Do together what we can’t do by ourselves. And that the function of representative government is to counteract what he called “the excesses of the monied interests”-that today is the corporate interests. There’s other things-not only the defense of the country but public health, public safety, research and development-that only government can generate, and we’d better take control of it and have it represent people instead of corporations.
    Source: National Public Radio, interview by Diane Rehm Apr 3, 1996

    Coined the term “corporate welfare”

    Q: The term “corporate welfare” has been around since 1956, when Ralph Nader first brought it up. What do you mean by corporate welfare?

    A: Corporate welfare comes in two forms and many variations. One is the active form. That includes agribusiness subsidies, military contractor subsidies, loan guarantees, bailouts of S&Ls. There are giveaways of minerals on federal lands, there are giveaways of computer databases. Then there’s the passive corporate welfare, which are the tax breaks, the loopholes. There are dozens of those, they make up about half the tax code. One example is that foreign corporations don’t pay many taxes at all. And then there are the rates themselves -- if you’re an individual you pay a higher rate than a corporation.

    Source: Utne Community, interview by Monika Bauerlein Jul 2, 1995

    Other candidates on Corporations: Ralph Nader on other issues:
    George W. Bush
    Dick Cheney
    John Edwards
    John Kerry

    Third Party Candidates:
    Michael Baradnik
    Peter Camejo
    David Cobb
    Ralph Nader
    Michael Peroutka

    Democratic Primaries:
    Carol Moseley Braun
    Wesley Clark
    Howard Dean
    Dick Gephardt
    Bob Graham
    Dennis Kucinich
    Joe Lieberman
    Al Sharpton
    Civil Rights
    Foreign Policy
    Free Trade
    Govt. Reform
    Gun Control
    Health Care
    Homeland Security
    Social Security
    Tax Reform
    Adv: Avi Green for State Rep Middlesex 26, Somerville & Cambridge Massachusetts