Why American Industry Could Become Dangerous

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In January 2010, the Supreme Court gave corporations unlimited power to spend money on political campaigns, effectively swaying politicians in their favor. But by doing this, Washington could become less inclined to side with consumers and more inclined to rule in favor of the companies that they are supposed to regulate. The result could be ominous: products with safety problems could slip through.The reason: Because government, being funded by the corporations, would be more apt to look the other way instead of preventing a product from getting to market.

There are already examples of how such cozy relationships have recently undermined the banking, automobile, and pharmaceuticals industries. Despite the passage of the The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (also known as the Credit CARD Act) -- intended to get banks to disclose more about fees to consumers -- banks are already finding ways to pass on the additional costs of that legislation to consumers. Meanwhile, they're lobbying against legislation that might limit their ability to place bets that profit them while passing losses onto taxpayers.

Banks are trying hard to fight the lost revenue from the Credit CARD Act. The New York Times reports that banks will go into marketing overdrive to scare consumers into spending $35 a year to keep their overdraft protection -- a move that's an attempt to avoid the loss of $20 billion in fees. And guess who will pay for that marketing blitz? Quite possibly you -- because the banks will find a way to pass those higher marketing expenses on to consumers in the form of higher fees elsewhere.

The Best Government Money Can Buy

Wall Street gives us the best government money can buy. As I posted, it spends $500 million a year on Washington lobbyists and contributions to political campaigns. If you're among the 15 million unemployed Americans, lost a share of the $30 trillion in stock market value destroyed in 2008, or find it troubling that the U.S. has bailed out Wall Street to the tune of $23.7 trillion while getting huge bonuses a year later, you're feeling the effects of corporate money in politics.

Meanwhile, Toyota (TM) had 31 lobbyists who gave $25 million to Washington -- a condition which could buy it a mere slap on the hand from regulators trying to protect consumers from faulty vehicles. According to the New York Times, over 12 members of Congress have owned stock in Toyota since 2008. That may have helped inspire the Toyota employee who bragged that its limited 2007 recall saved it $100 million.

Here are two examples of financially compromised members of Congress from the New York Times. Representative Jane Harman (D-Calif.) owns Toyota stock valued at $116,000 to $315,000 in her most recent disclosure report. Harman serves on the House energy committee, which will examine Toyota's problems at a hearing on Tuesday. And Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) made his $337 million in the auto-alarm business, selling the Viper alarm and other brands for Toyotas among other makes.

Then there's the drug industry whose cash to doctors and researchers influences their judgment about what to prescribe to patients. The most recent evidence of this is a survey reported in the New York Times, conducted in 2006 and 2007 -- it
concluded that drug companies paid for educational materials like pocket guides in 83% of U.S. medical residency programs that accepted industry support, meals in 90%, office supplies in 68% and drug samples in 57%.

Even the Gift of a Pen Can Wield Influence

Does this matter to what drugs doctors prescribe once they get out of school? Yes. The New York Times reports that surveys have shown that gifts as small as a pen or food can influence prescribing patterns.

So what? Does it really matter that corporations are reaching into the pockets of the people who hold and invest your money, make the cars you drive in every day, or prescribe the medicines you need if you're sick? Is it really all that important that corporations be able to decide which Washington lawmakers best suit their shareholders' needs and pay to get them elected while blocking the ones they oppose?

If you want enough money to pay your bills or retire; if you like the idea that your car or truck won't suddenly go out of control and kill you; or you want to be able to find a doctor who will put your health above all other interests, then your life depends on it.

And as long as it's more profitable for corporations to protect their interests against yours, we have the best government money can buy. And that could cost you your money or your life.
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