MADISON, Wis. — Whenever I encounter naked hypocrisy in the news, I'm torn.
On one hand, I tingle with a frisson of triumph, because any exposure of the two-facedness of America's corporate aristocracy appeals to my deeply felt journalist's imperative to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
On the other hand, I sigh with bitter resignation, because — all my life — I've rarely seen the high and mighty pay even the slightest price for the blatant and predatory abandonment of their (alleged) morals. When you're high enough and sufficiently mighty, you cannot only be a raving hypocrite, you can get away with it without breaking a sweat.
For example, last week, according to The New York Times:
A loose coalition of Democratic elected officials, shareholder activists and pension funds has flooded the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded corporations to disclose to shareholders all of their political donations, a move that could transform the growing world of secret campaign spending.
Cool! Except, well… Note that in the quoted sentence above, the only noun that appears twice is “shareholders.”
Note also that, since the birth of the New York Stock Exchange, the sacredest cow worshipped by the financial elites and the most oft-cited alibi for fiscal shenanigans and ruthless policies by publicly held corporations has been “the interests of shareholders.” How often have you heard a corporate spokesperson say something like:
We deeply regret laying off 40,000 loyal employees who have selflessly worked within our loving corporate family at Amalgamated. However, the demands of stockholders for their quarterly dividend made this streamlining a matter of necessity.
Under pressure from shareholders who have made their position clear to management, we are announcing today that Amalgamated will be moving our manufacturing, design, and engineering operations to the Third Word hellhole of Lower Slobbovia, thus saving the company approximately $1 billion in wages, benefits, pensions, daycare, toilets, and other employee luxuries. This initiative will result in a 24 percent costs savings to Amalgamated, while shifting roughly 70 percent of our domestic workforce to offshore contractors.
While expressing our deepest condolences to the families of the 600 sweatshop workers in Lower Slobbovia crushed to death and burned to a crisp in the collapse of the Fashion Slobbovia factory, Amalgamated management today has restated that its involvement was only through subcontractors who failed to inform us of their continued association with the condemned plant site. We can reiterate with utmost confidence to our shareholders that Amalgamated bears no liability in this tragedy and that our quarterly profit picture is unaffected.
The unfortunate spill of toxic arsenic slime that covered the entire state of Oklahoma on Tuesday was an unfortunate result of long-established and otherwise praise-worthy management practices by Amalgamated. Pipeline repairs Oklahoma segment, which had recently passed federal inspections with a grade of C-minus, were scheduled for the next 18 months. Had we accelerated these repairs, in response to pressure from local alarmists and environmental extremists, shareholder value would have been adversely impacted.
Well, given a chance to do something that America's shareholders really want — more than outsourcing, sweatshop labor, toxic spills, corporate welfare, and public-relations snow jobs — America's corporate chiefs, boards of directors, and K Street lobbyists are giving all of us the finger.
Shareholders, overwhelmingly, prefer to know how much their corporations are spending on politics and which politicians are collecting the graft. However, the list of outfits who've lined up to oppose this popular movement for the rights of shareholder to know (and possibly object to) the billions that corporations blow on political meddling, is a veritable Big Business all-star team.
The US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, their member companies (most of the Fortune 500), and a craven herd of bought-and-paid-for Congresspersons are fighting fiercely to keep the SEC out of the political lobbying racket.
The NY Times quoted Columbia University law professor Robert J. Jackson, Jr., who nicely nutshelled the hypocrisy of companies that finger greedy shareholders for corporate offenses against employees, communities, the environment, the public interest, and well, shareholders: “It's a basic precept of American securities law that shareholders should be given the information they need to evaluate their companies.”
But the companies, bless their stony hearts, are telling their shareholders that they can take their basic precept and shove it.
And here’s the kicker. The SEC, as usual, will buckle. The high and mighty will get away with their latest mega-hypocrisy and shareholders will end up where we were before — out in the vestibule, holding the bag.