Archive for May, 2008

Postcard from the Good Jobs First conference

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

If you are a researcher or campaigner concerned about economic development accountability, the place to be this week is the national conference of Good Jobs First outside Baltimore. Gathered here are activists who are seeking to remake the relationship between the public and the private sectors.

Some of the most impressive presentations came this morning in a plenary session put together by the Partnership for Working Families (PWF). Madeline Janis, head of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, and Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who runs the South Bay AFL-CIO and Working Partnerships USA, described remarkable changes that have taken place in parts of California. Union-sponsored non-profit organizations, working with community allies, are turning the tables on developers who used to have the red carpet rolled out for them. Now the right to build large subsidized projects is being made contingent on providing benefits to the community ranging from apprenticeship programs and living-wage jobs to affordable housing, more green space and air pollution abatement. Janis and Ellis-Lamkins seemed to be describing a parallel universe in which the common good takes precedence over monied interests.

Their themes were echoed later in a presentation by Cecilia Estolano, chief executive of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, a remarkable public official who is converting the agency from what she said was a “cookie jar” for developers into a promoter of projects that bring about broad improvements in living standards.

The good news comes not only from California. For example, Deborah Scott of Georgia Stand Up recounted how her group cajoled local officials in Atlanta to provide for community participation in major development projects taking place adjacent to an old rail line ringing the city.

I was unable to attend the PWF workshops (one of five tracks) because I was giving presentations of my own — in my capacity as research director of Good Jobs First — in workshops on advanced research techniques relating to subsidies and corporate taxes. Joining me in the latter were Matt Gardner of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, who told us how to unearth the real tax rates of major corporations (which are often well below what the company claims), and Michael Mazerov of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who described his proposal to compel corporations to disclose abbreviated versions of their state tax returns.

This is only a sample of the provocative ideas swirling around this conference. Wish you could be here.

(This item is being crossposted on Clawback.org.)

Rebuffed by Supreme Court, NAM Complies with Disclosure Law—for Now

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

It’s rare these days for powerful business interests to be rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but that’s what happened when Chief Justice John Roberts denied an emergency request from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) last week having to do with disclosure. NAM has been waging a court battle against a new law (Section 207 of P.L. 110-81) that requires trade associations to list member companies that are extensively involved in developing the organization’s lobbying strategies or that contribute at least $5,000 toward those efforts. NAM believes its members should be able to lobby confidentially.

NAM was seeking a stay on enforcement of a portion of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act that took effect on April 21. The DC Court of Appeals turned down the request, so NAM went to the Supreme Court, which also said no.

This week, NAM submitted an amended lobbying disclosure filing to the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate. Beginning on page 54 of the 71-page document, NAM responded to a question about additional affiliated organizations by including a link to a page on its website.

That page contains the names of 63 large corporations and two trade associations (American Petroleum Institute and the Edison Electric Institute) whose lobbying involvement, NAM decided, now has to be made public. Not surprisingly, the companies include giant industrials in sectors such as energy, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, heavy equipment, food processing and aerospace. In other words, companies that have a lot of interests that need to be fostered in Washington.

Here’s the complete list: Albemarle Corporation, American Electric Power, American Petroleum Institute, AREVA Group, AT&T, Bayer Corporation, BD, Boston Scientific Corporation, BP Corporation North America, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Campbell Soup Company, Caterpillar Inc., Chevron Corporation, CN, CONSOL Energy, Corning Incorporated, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Delphi Corporation, Dominion Resources Services, Dow Corning Corporation, Eastman Chemical Company, Edison Electric Institute, Entergy Corporation, Exxon Mobil Corporation, FirstEnergy Corp., FMC Technologies, General Electric, Goodrich Corporation, Illinois Tool Works, Ingersoll-Rand, JELD-WEN, Inc., Johnson Controls, Koch Industries, Loews Corporation, Marathon Oil, Mead Westvaco, Merck & Company, Northrop Grumman, Occidental Petroleum, Owens-Illinois, PPG Industries, PPL Corporation, Rockwell Automation, Rohm and Haas, SABIC Americas, Inc., Sanofi-Aventis, Shell Oil, Smurfit-Stone Container, Sony Electronics, Temple-Inland, Terra Industries, Textron, The Clorox Company, The Hershey Company, The Timken Company, Unilever United States, Union Pacific, United States Steel, USEC, Verizon, Volvo Group North America, W L Gore & Associates, W. R. Grace & Co., Weyerhaeuser Company, and Xerox Corporation.

It is no great surprise that companies such as these are deeply involved in trying to shape federal policies, but what’s important here is the principle: lobbying is not a process that companies can engage in surreptitiously by funneling their spending through business associations. NAM President John Engler (former Republican Governor of Michigan) warned that the new disclosure requirement might prompt companies “to curtail their memberships or restrict their involvement in trade associations.” That might sound like a problem to Engler, but less corporate involvement in manipulating public policy is music to my ears.