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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fighting the Hostile Takeover - by David Sirota

Amid all the consultant-packaged rhetoric about America being the "greatest democracy in the world," it often seems impossible to figure out exactly who controls our government. But every now and then, the public gets a fleeting glimpse into who is really running the show.
 
We get to see how there no longer is a boundary between Big Business and government, and how our politicians are wholly owned subsidiaries of Corporate America. We get to see, in short, exactly how our government has been the victim of a hostile takeover.
 
Last month, in three little-noticed stories buried in the business press, the hostile takeover was on full display. The first story was a tiny one buried on the inside pages of the Wall Street Journal about how the U.S. Treasury Department worked hand in hand with IBM to kill bipartisan pension legislation in 2003. The bill would have outlawed pension schemes employed by IBM and other big companies that give workers less than they were originally promised. The report noted that at the time, "a Treasury official disclosed nonpublic information to IBM and failed to report expenses paid by a lobbyist for a pension-industry trade group" -- all while allowing the company to circulate documents on Capitol Hill claiming the U.S. Treasury officially was working with IBM to kill the legislation. Clearly, the behavior ran afoul of the lobbying laws supposedly creating a boundary between business and government. But as the Journal went on to note, "The Justice Department didn't pursue criminal or civil charges in the matters because they didn't meet the agency's 'prosecutorial threshold.' " The legislation was ultimately killed. In effect, a major federal agency -- in this case the Treasury Department -- was the victim of the hostile takeover, serving as an arm of Corporate America, rather than a regulator.
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