By Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest
Election day is upon us, but more than five million American citizens will not be able to go to the polls because they have been convicted of a felony and thus stripped of their voting rights. Yet there is another group of felons and other malefactors whose participation in the electoral process has been enhanced rather than curtailed: corporate criminals.
Corporations vote with their dollars, and thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, they have more influence in elections than ever before. That includes corporations that have been convicted of crimes or regulatory violations, settled similar charges without admitting guilt or otherwise run afoul of the law.
Here are some of the leading corporate criminals that are active participants in the electoral process. The figures on their political spending are no doubt understated, given the various ways that companies can now invest in elections and keep it secret.
Leaving aside this year's disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, for which BP has not yet faced court action, in 2007 the British oil giant and some of its subsidiaries paid $370 million in fines and restitution for environmental criminal violations stemming from a fatal fire at a Texas refinery in 2005 and leaks of crude oil from its pipelines in Alaska. BP Products North America and British Petroleum Exploration (Alaska) Inc. were put on probation for three years.
In the current electoral cycle, according to the Open Secrets website, BP's political action committee has spent more than $300,000.
In July, Goldman Sachs paid $550 million to settle federal charges that it misled investors in connection with subprime mortgage securities.
In the current electoral cycle, the Goldman Sachs PAC has spent more than $850,000.
British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline and a subsidiary together recently agreed to pay $750 million to settle criminal and civil charges relating to the knowing sale of contaminated and ineffective products.
In the current electoral cycle, the GlaxoSmithKline PAC has spent more than $1.5 million.
In August, Hewlett-Packard paid $55 million to settle charges that it paid kickbacks to win U.S. government business.
In the current electoral cycle, the Hewlett-Packard PAC has spent more than $350,000.
Also in August, the Federal Aviation Administration charged American Airlines with multiple maintenance violations and proposed a record fine of $24.2 million.
In the current electoral cycle, the American Airlines PAC has spent more than $550,000.
In July the computer maker Dell agreed to pay more than $100 million in penalties to settle charges of failing to disclose material information to investors and using fraudulent accounting methods.
In the current electoral cycle, the Dell PAC has spent more than $160,000.
In July, Citigroup paid $75 million to settle federal charges that it misled its own investors about the company's exposure to risky subprime mortgage assets.
In the current electoral cycle, the Citigroup PAC has spent more than $390,000.
We can't forget about the big military contractors. Lockheed Martin, the largest of that fraternity, has 51 listings in the Project On Government Oversight's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, with total fines and settlements of some $577 million.
In the current electoral cycle, the Lockheed Martin PAC has spent more than $2.9 million.
I could go on and on. The political system in awash with direct contributions from corporations that have broken a wide range of laws and in many cases are using their campaign offerings to unduly influence federal policy so they can go on doing what they do - and perhaps face fewer prosecutions and enforcement actions in the future if their desired candidates are elected.
Corporations are persons, the Supreme Court tells us, and have Constitutional rights. Actually, corporations now have more rights than natural persons. They can break the law repeatedly and buy their way out of serious punishment.
The country would be a lot better off if individual ex-offenders got back their voting rights and corporate criminals were barred from spending lavishly to buy political influence.