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Greg Webb
Greg Webb
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Corporate America Seeking Special Treatment – Immunity and Corporate Welfare

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In an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated: ““We understand the critical necessity of revitalizing the economy by restoring American jobs, encouraging the growth of U.S. businesses, and protecting the savings and investments of millions of Americans. However, we are concerned that the potential expansion of legal liability significantly impairs these much needed steps toward a national recovery.”

Attorney Andrew Cohen interprets those words to mean “Now that corporate America has helped screw everything up and led us into the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, we need to make sure that Corporate America isn’t aggressively punished for its misdeeds or legitimately thwarted from misdoing them again.”

The Chamber of Commerce has been pushing to rein in plaintiffs’ attorneys, deregulate industry and commerce, and nullify consumer protection laws, according to Mr. Cohen. Additionally, they and the Institute for Legal Reform pushed the Securities Exchange Commission to back off their scrutiny of deals and schemes, Congress to relax its oversight of the mortgage industry, and the White House and Justice Department to press for preemption which almost always helps employers over employees.

The Institute’s website does not mention the personal stories of victims of corporate greed or managerial inexperience, nor does it point out the lives and fortunes protected because of lawsuits against big businesses. Instead the website highlights “lawsuit abuse,” tracking the people who believe they have been sued unfairly. Mr. Cohen points out the rarity of a person believing they have been fairly sued.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys, who are one of the Chamber’s targets, are not responsible for the economic meltdown, but Corporate America is, Mr. Cohen believes. Therefore, he suggests the last thing Obama’s administration wants to do is shackle plaintiffs lawyers, stifle well-meaning state laws, or make it easier for businesses to avoid liability for their actions.

This writer finds this position by the Chamber of Commerce, an organization who has made it an ultimate priority to achieve near absolute immunity for all of its members’ intentional and/or egregious conduct – destroying innocent American citizens’ lives in the process – to be the height of gall and hypocrisy. What goes around, comes around. While capitalism is good, and our system of government, including ordinary citizens’ access to the courts, has been the envy of the world for decades, rampant and unbridled corporate greed, at the expense of the “little guy”, has put our country in the position it is in today. To grant corporations immunity for its actions, or omissions, is wrong; further, it defies the intent of our founding fathers’ to allow ordinary Americans to have access to the courts, and therefore to justice. Where else in the world can an ordinary person have equal footing to the most powerful persons and corporations? Why would we change this? We should not erode that right further, as the Bush Administration tried to do, and did in many ways, in the future. Corporations and those with vast financial resources already enjoy privileges that go far beyond what most have.

When Corporations want government help, or corporate welfare, it deems this conduct beneficial and necessary for the country’s well-being; but when the working class needs similar help, it is deemed "welfare", or its equivalent. The Chamber’s rationale is upside-down. We have witnessed, over the past months, Corporate Welfare at its highest form (witness the AIG "bailout" and the infusion of government money into the banking industry, to name a few, and there will be more to come, I assure you). Why do these corporations and their executives deserve more handouts and immunity for their behavior and choices? They do not – it is simply wrong and we must hope and encourage our new President and Congress to not bow to such pressure.