During my four years in Congress, I got a first-hand view of the impact of lobbying in Washington, DC. The end result is that all too often our laws and policies are directed by corporate power and finances, ensuring corporate interests have priority over the interests of the American people, as well as people around the world. Our government is supposed to be “of, by, and for” the people, so as President I will do everything I can to stop corporate abuses of power and have our government once again be accountable only to the people. With technological advancements allowing corporations to become ever more powerful, it has never been more important to increase oversight of corporations and make sure they never act against the public interest.
Lobbying is not inherently a harmful practice. Lobbyists often point out that it is an activity protected by the 1st Amendment, upheld by the Supreme Court. Indeed, at its root, lobbying is simply a group of people coming together to argue for their interests in Congress and at government agencies. But something is very wrong when corporations spend $2.6 billion on reported lobbying expenditures, while public-interest groups and labor unions spend 34 times less. Over the last 50 years corporate lobbying has itself become a business, and as money has become ever more central to politics — especially since the Citizens United decision enabled corporations to make unlimited campaign expenditures through Political Action Committees (PACs) — the power of lobbyists has only increased.
I am strongly in favor of legislation which would make it illegal for politicians to take contributions from lobbyists, ban lobbyist “bundling” (coordinating campaign donations), and close the revolving door that allows members of Congress to convert their access and professional networks into lucrative jobs. We must also increase transparency requirements for PACs, close loopholes, increase enforcement, end “gerrymandering” with independent redistricting commissions, and improve our voting systems and practices as well.
I also believe we need corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, and that we should end the sorts of “corporate welfare” programs that lobbyists have been so adept at getting written into law. A good start would be rolling back at least half of the recent corporate tax cuts that the current administration passed into law (and which is presently ballooning the federal deficit). According to analysts, half of the cost of those tax cuts were used by corporations for stock buybacks, not capital investments, training, or creating good-paying jobs. Tax reform should also include restoring the estate tax for America’s 400 wealthiest families to what it was in 2009, and having billionaire hedge fund managers — taxed at only 15% — pay at the same rate as other income (37% for the highest-earning tax bracket). When corporations and the wealthy people who run them pay their fair share, the whole country stands to benefit.
By some estimates, the federal government directly pays out $100 billion in corporate welfare each year. Federal tax breaks for corporations cost an additional $200 billion. Indirect subsidies cost us billions more: a recent study from the University of Illinois and UC-Berkeley found that the fast food industry alone receives some $7 billion in indirect subsidies because the wages it pays are so low that all those billions in public must be spent by taxpayers on public assistance for fast food workers. Wal-mart costs a further $6.2 billion in further indirect subsidies due to its low wages. Subsidies for corporate jets cost us $3 billion per year. Big-pharma saves untold sums because we don’t allow Medicare to negotiate for better drug prices. And a tax-deduction for mortgage interest on second homes costs us $8 billion. This madness must end.
It’s time to take a good hard look at corporate welfare across the board. Corporate jets should no longer be subsidized. Second homes should no longer be subsidized. And big businesses that refuse to pay their workers a living wage should most certainly no longer be subsidized. I support a new law mandating that businesses with over 500 employees cover 100% of the costs of public assistance which the government spends on their workers. So if an employee at an Amazon distribution center receives $1,200 in SNAP benefits, Amazon would reimburse the government $1,200. This will force companies to either pay a living wage, or pay taxpayers back for what we spend on their workers.
Some of the most egregious examples of corporate welfare involve industries that do lasting harm to our environment and the global climate, namely the fossil fuel industries and giant agri-businesses. Shockingly, oil companies receive seven times the subsidies of renewable energy. Some of these are just ridiculous: a $2.3 billion subsidy allows oil and gas companies to deduct 100% of costs that aren’t directly linked to the final operation of a well; a $1.5 billion subsidy called “Last-in, First Out Accounting for Fossil Fuel Companies” allows oil companies to undervalue their inventory; and the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act inexplicably costs taxpayers $1.1 billion by reducing royalty rates charged for certain underwater oil drilling operations. And while BP came to a $20 billion settlement following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, our business-friendly tax code allowed them to deduct over $15 billion of that, depriving taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. Why should these companies receive special treatment when they are already making money in vast quantities, and costing so much to us and future generations in terms of environmental damage and climate change?
Farm subsidies cost an estimated $20 billion every year, and the big corporations that receive them need review. Despite a 2000 law that prohibits disclosure of information about recipients of farm subsidies, we know that the majority of farm subsidies go to the largest 15% of all farm businesses, including some of the wealthiest landowners in America, while most small farmers — who generally farm more sustainably — actually lose money on their farming operations. A study by the Environmental Working Group even found that almost $10 million in agricultural subsidies go to members of Congress or their families. That is not right. Big farming operations and factory farms cause huge environmental problems, from dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico to immense carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions (24% of all global greenhouse gas emissions stem from agriculture and land use), and taxpayer-funded subsidies are helping to foot the bill. While I support crop insurance programs and other necessary subsidies that provide our food security, we must dramatically re-prioritize our funding of the agricultural industry to focus on supporting small family farms and larger farms willing to transition to sustainable practices, or already employing them. As I detail in my Climate Change & Environmental Protection issue page, widespread adoption of regenerative farming practices could actually shift agriculture from being a major driver of climate change to being a weapon against it. Any subsidies to the agricultural industry should be focused on this goal.
Corporations already have so much power in American society, and technological advancements are poised to give them even more power. The coming installation of 5G wireless networks is of particular concern, since the technology is all coming out of China, and brings with it potential for spying and other “Trojan Horse” hidden technology that could one day cripple our communications in the event of a cyber war. In the fields of nanotechnology, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence, corporations will soon be able to accomplish feats previously believed to be beyond our grasp. But as we have seen time and again, technological innovations can have unintended consequences. For instance, Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops designed to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate have made Roundup the most popular agricultural chemical in the world, but only now are we beginning to realize the unintended effects: increased rates of cancer among people exposed to glyphosate, the development of “superweeds” resistant to herbicide, degraded soil (because glyphosate is an antibiotic too, destroying vital microorganisms in soil), and the loss of food sources and habitat for endangered and threatened species like the monarch butterfly.
The potential dangers of nanotechnology, gene editing, and artificial intelligence are not difficult to imagine, so government needs to stop its hands-off approach now that these technologies have become realities. Nanotechnology is already used in over 600 consumer products, from toothpaste to electronics, with global sales into the trillions of dollars, yet the potential harms of these products have yet to be fully probed. For instance, germ-killing nanoparticles of silver are increasingly used in products from clothing to stuffed animals, though it’s understood that they can harm human health, poison wildlife, and lead to antibiotic resistance in dangerous bacteria. A recent animal study in the UK has found that carbon nanotubes, which are now being used extensively in consumer products, can cause the same kind of lung damage as asbestos. On the gene editing front, a Chinese scientist used the new CRISPR-Cas9 technology to “gene-edit” a human being immune to HIV from birth. Subsequent study has found that people who naturally have the same mutated gene are more likely to die early deaths. From biotech, to nanotech, to gene-editing, a future in which giant corporations have the ability to alter life itself is not somewhere off in the distance, it’s already here.
The federal government must play an active role in regulating these potentially harmful sciences. We must apply the precautionary principle to regulatory oversight. We must not have regulatory agencies being run by former employees of the industries they are supposed to regulate, as is too often rampant. Unfettered lobbying and corporate influence in the halls of power are bad enough, but when combined with revolutionary technological advancements, they could become downright disastrous.