Greed, Greed and More Greed
by Rep. Bernie Sanders
Sanders Scoop newsletter, Summer 2002
There is a cancer eating away at the heart of corporate America
and its name is "greed." It is becoming increasingly
apparent that many large corporations will do anything, legal
or otherwise, to fatten the already huge compensation packages
of their CEOs. As we have seen in recent years these corporations
lie about their financial statements, cheat or move abroad to
avoid paying their fair share of taxes, cut the pensions and health
benefits of their employees and throw loyal workers out on the
street as they move their plants to China. At the same time many
of them line up for billions in corporate welfare from the federal
Let's be clear. We're not just talking about a "few bad
apples" such as Worldcom, Enron, Xerox, Adelphia, Tyco, Global
Crossing, and Arthur Anderson. According to a recent study by
the Huron Consulting Group, over the past five years nearly 1,000
companies were forced to correct their financial statements.
The "greed culture" in corporate America today is
now out of control. Some examples: Lou Gerstner, former CEO of
IBM, received $366 million over the last five years and an extremely
generous pension plan, while cutting back on the retirement and
health care benefits of his employees. C.A. Heimbold, Jr., former
Chairman and CEO of BristolMyers Squibb Co. received compensation
of $74,890,918 in 2001 and has stock options worth $76,095,611,
while senior citizens are suffering and dying because they can't
afford the outrageously high prices for the prescription drugs
that his company sells. GE, which has laid off tens of thousands
of American workers as they move jobs abroad, provided their three
top executives with $550 million in salary, stock options and
executive benefits in 2000. Jack Welch, former GE CEO, receives
a pension of almost $10 million annually for the rest of his life.
At Worldcom, bankrupt and under investigation for manipulating
their financial statements, CEO Bemard Ebbers received personal
loans from the company for $408 million that has not yet been
paid back. At Enron, also bankrupt and under investigation, CEO
Lou Pai cashed in $353 million in stock options. And on and on
Let's be clear, however. It's not only the illegal behavior
of multinational corporations that Americans are outraged at.
It's the legal but immoral behavior of corporate America as well.
In the United States today, CEOs of major corporations make over
500 times what their employee earn, a gap that has increased
dramatically in recent years and is far higher than in any other
While the average American is working longer hours for lower
wages, CEOs of major corporations not only enjoy huge compensation
packages and incredible stock option deals, but they receive golden
parachutes, loans, generous retirement plans, private jets, and
a wide range of other benefits. The result is that the richest
1% now own more wealth than the bottom 95% and we have, by far,
the most unfair distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized
Unfortunately, this crisis of greed is made even worse by
the fact that President Bush and many of those around him are
implicated in the same kind of abuses that we are seeing on the
front pages every day. Whether it is Vice President Cheney, the
former CEO of Halliburton, which is currently being investigated
by the SEC, or Secretary of the Treasury O'Neill's lack of forthrightness
about his stock trading while CEO of Alcoa, or Secretary of the
Army Thomas White's involvement with Enron, the Bush Administration
is itself so mired in alleged corporate misdeeds that it lacks
all credibility and moral authority on the issue. How absurd that
the chief government watchdog over corporate America, SEC Chairman
Harvey Pitts must recuse himself from key SEC votes because he
used to lobby for looser regulations over the very accountants
who are now at the center of the current corporate scandals. And
of course President Bush himself was involved in "questionable"
stock trades and insider loans while a member of the Board of
the Harken corporation.
While it is important to make dishonest corporate executives
answer for their crimes and do our best to prevent future corporate
misconduct, we should not forget the broader issues that the crisis
of greed raises. First, what is going on in our country today
that allows for the kind of corporate thievery that we are seeing?
Secondly, beyond political posturing and sound-bites, what should
Congress really be doing to protect the interests of the average
Where do we go from here?
In my view, the most important thing that Congress can do
is to break the stranglehold that corporate America now has over
politics in Washington. Shamefully, since 1990, accountants and
their PACs have provided $57.4 million in political contributions
to federal candidates and political parties. In addition, big
business has made $522 million in campaign contributions to both
political parties during the 2001-2002 election cycle alone. While
Congress has recently made some progress in campaign finance reform
by banning unlimited soft money, much more needs to be done. Ultimately,
we need to move to public funding of elections so that candidates
are no longer dependent upon the wealthy and large corporations
for their contributions.
Secondly, we have to understand that the recently highlighted
corporate financial scandals are only one manifestation of the
overall culture of greed that is plaguing our nation. This culture,
which loudly proclaims that the goal of human existence is the
personal gain of the individual at the expense of everyone and
thing else, permeates every aspect of our society. If we are
going to revitalize American democracy and develop public policy
that creates a decent standard of living for all Americans, every
part of corporate America's overall ideology and behavior has
got to be challenged - and defeated. This means:
We have to end their domination over the media. At a time
when fewer and fewer large multinational corporations control
what the American people see, hear and read, and when issues relevant
to working families are largely ignored, we must demand broader
ownership of the media and the opportunity for more points of
view to be heard. Political change in this country cannot take
place if the American people are not adequately informed about
the economic and political conditions which shape the society
in which they live.
We have to rescind their $500 billion in tax breaks for the
richest one percent of the population and over $100 billion in
corporate welfare, while education, affordable housing, mass transportation,
environmental protection and other vital social needs are under-funded.
We must reject their hollow claims that private insurance
companies can address the current disastrous situation in health
care. With 41 million Americans lacking any health insurance and
with the cost of health care soaring, the United States cannot
continue to be the only industrialized country on earth without
a national health care system. Health care is a right of all people,
and we must proclaim that loudly.
We need to turn back their plans to impose unfettered "free
trade" on our nation and the world. The evidence is clear
that the major beneficiaries of this policy are the multi-national
corporations who pushed it on the American people. With a $340
billion trade deficit and
the loss of ten percent of our manufacturing base in the last
four years, and increased poverty in the developing world, NAFTA,
GATT and Most Favored Nation Status with China have been a disaster.
We must reject trade agreements that push American workers to
"race to the bottom" against desperate people in China,
Mexico and elsewhere who are forced to work for pennies an hour.
We need to defeat their efforts to privatize Social Security,
enrich Wall Street, and make the retirement plans of millions
of Americans dependent on the ups and downs of the stock market.
Social Security must be strengthened, not destroyed. A11 Americans
must know that they will have a secure and guaranteed source of
income when they reach old age.
We need to say "no" to their efforts to keep us
dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear power. Global warming, acid
rain, air pollution and the disposal of radioactive waste are
massive problems that must be addressed if this planet is to survive.
We can substantially cut pollution and improve our national security
by utilizing technologies that exists today which could provide
cheap, sustainable and non-polluting energy.
And we are well poised to make these fights. The bad news
is that the recent wave of corporate scandals has cost many middle-class
Americans a large part of their retirement savings, their jobs,
and their confidence in our business and political leaders. But
the good news is that it has also, for the first time in many
years, made clear the need for working people, environmentalists,
students, the elderly, family farmers and others to come together
to advance a progressive agenda for the nation - an agenda that
calls for a decent standard of living for the many and not just
enormous wealth for the few.