President Obama -- Get Tough on Corporate Welfare
Consumer advocate, lawyer and author
Ask anti-government ideologues about "welfare" and they are likely to tell you all about an increasingly large group of Americans who are dependent on government handouts. They might refer to the portion of the population who Mitt Romney famously called "the 47 percent," those who consider themselves to be "victims" entitled to government aid. It's actually quite an apt description for many companies such as Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Intel, Microsoft, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boeing, Exxon Mobil, Verizon, PG&E and others.
The phenomenon of corporate welfare -- that is, the hundreds of billions of dollars regularly doled out to just about every large, profitable company in the United States -- is one that I have been challenging for decades. There are hundreds of programs in existence that directly or indirectly provide billions of dollars of taxpayer money to corporations. One might expect that a serious public discussion about curtailing excess "welfare spending" would focus on cutting these enormous handouts to rich corporations, not the small-by-comparison safety net for the poor. Yet somehow, many purveyors of the "stand-on-your-own-two-fe et responsibility" ideology do not apply the same standard to corporations on the dole.
The U.S. federal government is quite possibly the richest property owner on earth, owning valuable tracts of public land, thousands of buildings and plants, the public airwaves and more. Giveaways are one of the many forms of corporate welfare -- either handing over valuable assets for nothing, or grossly undercharging for them. Take, for instance, one of the single biggest giveaways in U.S. corporate welfare history. On April 7, 1997 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave broadcast licenses for digital television to the major broadcasters. Essentially, the federal government wrote a $70 billion check to the broadcast industry and asked for nothing in return.
Consider the Research and Development giveaways. Taxpayer dollars have funded discoveries made by NASA, the Department of Defense, and the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies. In many instances, the rights to those discoveries and breakthroughs were later given to corporations that took credit and profited heavily from them. The result: a corporate welfare payout for the biotech, computer, aerospace, pharmaceutical and other industries.
Consider the land giveaways. Under the archaic 1872 Mining Act, companies are allowed to purchase mining rights to public land for only $5 an acre, no matter how valuable that land might be. In the early nineties, the Barrick Gold Corporation acquired nearly 2,000 acres of land in northeast Nevada, paying the federal government less than $10,000. The land contained over $10 billion in recoverable gold reserves, for which Barrick Gold did not have to pay a cent in federal royalties.
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