The Hightower Lowdown
Selling the Commons; The Corporate Tax-Dodgers
Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you deep into the dazzling neon of CorporateWorld, where no public facility is spared being branded by some kind of corporate logo. More and more corporations are stamping their private brands on various nonprofit institutions, ranging from zoos and children's hospitals to museums and theaters.
Selling the Commons
The New York Times reports, for example, that the venerable St. Louis Zoo has sold off naming rights for pieces of itself, including its Anheuser-Busch hippo harbor, its Bank of America ampitheater, its Emerson Electric petting zoo, and -- oh, hypocrisy! -- its Monsanto insectarium. Why would Monsanto, the maker of bug-killers, pay $3 million to put its name on a public exhibit that teaches the value of bugs in our world? Because the corporation wants to whitewash its image by attaching its name to an institution that people like. This is not philanthropy ... it's marketing.
Likewise, the global toy giant Mattel paid $25 million to get its name on UCLA's children's hospital. Kids who go there are treated to toys -- not just any toys, however, but Mattel-brand toys. A Mattel spokeswomen insists that this isn't marketing, but simply an expression of the corporation's love of children. Right.
Lest you think this corporatization will end at museums, hospital, and zoos, some cities reportedly are even thinking about selling naming rights to city hall.
Suppose you owned a local hardware store and had a very good year, making, say, $182 million in profit. And suppose that instead of having to pay income taxes on that juicy profit, sweet Uncle Sam sent you a check for several million dollars.
The Corporate Tax-Dodgers
No way, you say? Fantasyland? Well, if your company name was Texaco this very fantasy would have come true for you. Not only did Texaco pull in $182 million in profits in 1998, but it also received from the U.S. Treasury a tax-rebate in the amount of $67.7 million.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, an independent research group, has issued a stunning new report documenting that 41 of America's largest corporations had $25.8 billion in profits from 1996-1999, yet not only did they avoid paying their fair share of taxes -- they got $3.2 billion in rebate checks from us taxpayers! Among these tax dodgers are such brand-names as Chevron, PepsiCo, Pfizer, J.P. Morgan, Saks, Goodyear, Ryder, Enron, Colgate-Palmolive, MCI, Weyerhauser, GM, and Northrop Grumman.
What's at work here is not fantasy, but loopholes. By law, corporations are supposed to pay 35% of their profits in taxes. Yet, their lawyers and lobbyists have riddled the tax code with all sorts of special breaks -- including one that allows corporations to buy tax breaks from other corporations that have more tax breaks than they can use! The bottom line is that these companies escape paying, making us ordinary taxpayers pick up their share of financing America's highways, schools, parks, military, and other essentials.
These are the same corporations that demand better highways, more airports, a bigger Pentagon budget -- and more corporate subsidies from Uncle Sam. They want it all -- long as they don't have to pay for any of it.
A coup is taking place in Washington. It's not a classic coup of rogue generals rudely ousting the president, but a corporate coup being pulled off with the help of the president himself, as Little George Bush cheerfully waves in an army of corporate executives and lobbyists to take over agency after agency.
The Corporate Coup
The power behind the coup is Dick Cheney, the multimillionaire/former CEO of Halliburton Inc. who was in charge of Bush's search for a vice-president -- only to choose himself! Once in office, Cheney connived with Bush to completely corporatize the cabinet, a body of 16 people that contains four CEOs, two former lobbyists, and a gaggle of corporate directors. Then, the chief Washington lobbyist for General Motors, Andrew Card, was brought in as Bush's chief of staff -- sort of a corporate nanny for George W.
Now, the coup is moving down to the operational heads of our government. For example, the new head honcho of the Health Care Financing Administration is Thomas Scully. This is the agency in charge of Medicare and Medicaid -- the two health programs that hospital chains, HMOs, and the insurance giants want to privatize. Who is Scully? He's head of the lobbying operation for the hospital chains.
Likewise, the Pentagon is being salted with corporate executives who can work from within for a bigger weapons-making budget to profit their former employers. For example, two companies that are major weapons makers and would be in line to get billions of dollars for the infamous Star Wars scheme are placing top executives on the inside -- a vice-president of General Dynamics is to be secretary of the Navy, and V.P. of Northrop Grumman is to be the Air Force secretary.
Such special interests will further twist government policies to benefit the corporate elite at the expense of the people -- a perversion that the people did not vote for in the last election and do not want now. What we have here is a silent, corporate coup that is usurping the right of We the People to self-government.
Jim Hightower's latest book, If The Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, has just been released in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.