By Ralph Nader
Corporate law firms have taught their wayward corporate clients how to use accretions of privileges and immunities to ward off or wait out the most devastating books, documentaries and media exposés.
Corporate P.R. firms know that the media doesn’t follow the efforts of civic advocacy groups as a regular beat. Feature exposés are prime candidates for big journalistic awards like the Pulitzer Prizes.
Reporters usually do not get awards for covering ongoing reform efforts, which require consistent media coverage to put heat on hesitant lawmakers or prosecutors – say on the push to make Congress increase corporate accountability.
Here are some current examples of exposé-proof corporate crimes and outrages.
- Massive billing fraud, especially in the healthcare industry, has become a major contributor to the GDP. It probably exceeds one trillion dollars annually with healthcare over-billing amounting to at least $360 billion this year alone. The New York Times and other papers have written numerous page-one articles exposing raw gouging by hospitals. Nonetheless, the industry continues to expand its computerized, fraudulent overcharging year after year.
- Health insurers (such as Cigna) have been exposed for denying claims without even looking at the patient’s medical records. Hospitals are still charging uninsured patients higher prices than insured patients.
- Wage theft amounts to about $60 billion a year according to reports by the Economic Policy Institute. Despite exposés, corporations regularly rip-off low-wage workers.
- Huge fines are assessed against the reckless promotion of drugs by Big Pharma and chain pharmacies, while opioid-caused deaths in the U.S. are hitting record levels. No top corporate executive has been prosecuted to date.
- Years of documentation that over-prescription of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance, which causes about 100,000 deaths annually in the U.S. No matter, the toll continues to grow.
- Congressional hearings and reports document the giveaways allowed by the 1872 Mining Law, shielded from change ever since by the mining industry. The 1872 Act allows corporations, domestic or foreign, to discover hard rock minerals (e.g., gold, silver) on federal lands, and to mine and sell them without paying royalties to Uncle Sam. These corporate companies get the rights for this bonanza at a mere $5 an acre. Canadian Barrick Resources Corporation paid $5,190 for 1038 acres in Nevada and got the rights to $10 billion worth of our gold.Legalized theft by corporate plunder continues.
- Corporations contaminating drinking water with new deadly toxins regularly get headlines warning that PFAS are forever chemicals. However, companies continue to unleash silent violence that contaminates water and endangers people’s health.
- Congress’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) keeps publishing reports on boondoggle, wasteful weapons contracts by the Pentagon. Uh-huh, replies the Defense Department. But these contracts like the one for the dubious F-35 fighter aircraft keep humming along. The estimated cost for the F-35 program is $1.7 trillion!
- Boeing executives cut corners to produce a dangerous 737 MAX passenger plane that killed 356 people in two crashes in Indonesia (2018) and Ethiopia (2019). Very extensive, repeated reporting by mainstream media and Congressional hearings occurred. But Boeing is getting away with this crime, paying relatively small fines and tort claims that are insurable and deductible.
Boeing’s top executives either got promoted or were given huge severance packages. Boeing also got a deferred prosecution deal with the U.S. Justice Department. So far, there has been very limited tort claim discovery and not one trial. Boeing’s defense law firms are making out like Croesus, the king of Lydia.
- The absence of big truck rear and side guards causes dozens of deaths a year. Over fifty years of disclosures coming from some members of Congress, the media and the families of the victims, also citing Western European requirements for these safety guards, have resulted in only flimsy rear guards and no side guards.
If you wish to have more illustrations of the exposé-proof corporate state, I refer you to the joint project between Duke University School of Law and the University of Virginia Arthur J. Morris Law Library’s database (https://corporate-prosecution-registry.com/). In addition, see the weekly Corporate Crime Reporter and my weekly columns at nader.org.
The challenge is to stop these and other corporate abuses. The following Congressional oversight and action are needed.
- Both federal and state corporate criminal laws are too weak, and the budgets for the cops on the corporate crime beat are too minimal. Evasion of the law is routine. Just look at the vast sums of tax payments evaded by global corporations.
- Consumer protection laws are also weak and about 50 years out of date. Consumer advocates Harvey Rosenfield and Laura Antonini prepared an exhaustive model consumer protection bill last year, with 100 pages of backup justifications (Reboot Required: The Civil Justice System Has Crashed). Not a single state legislator has even introduced it in the U.S.
- Corporate campaign money and other insidious forces have either bought, rented or daunted our elected lawmakers, which produces dead zones in our local, state and national legislatures.
- Progressive candidates for public office fail to make corporate crime and corporate power campaign issues. Polls register over 70% of the American people believe corporations have too much control over their lives and a higher percentage want to crack down on corporate crooks. That’s a lot of liberal and conservative voters to mobilize. Unfortunately, candidates rarely talk about crime in the suites.
- These polls similarly do not prompt state and federal lawmakers to hold public investigatory hearings to inform the media and prod the public to demand action. In the 1960s and 1970s, hearings paved the way for consumer, environmental, and worker protection and freedom of information laws.
- Major public health groups and federal/state health departments are not making a national cause out of the 250,000 or more Americans dying in hospitals each year due to what a peer-reviewed Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Report termed “preventable problems in hospitals” (not counting clinics or physicians’ offices). Action here is long overdue.
- Finally, citizen groups and public health groups do not set their sights high enough. They should be pressing for structural corporate changes – such as the federal chartering of large corporations and upgrading law enforcement tools to combat corporate crime.
Thomas Jefferson and other Founders believed our First Amendment would provide vehicles for a just society. Instead, an array of corporate power has taken away its wheels.
Looking for your suggestions and civic energies, people. Send them to [email protected].