Huffington Post, January 27, 2009
Article: “Bailout Spent to Defeat Labor”
Author: Sam Stein
Student Researchers: Ben Kaufman and Rosemary Scott
Faculty Evaluator: Kelly Bucy, PhD
Sonoma State University
On October 17, 2008, three days after Bank of America Corporation received $25 billion in federal bailout funds, they hosted a conference call to organize opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Participants, including AIG, were urged to persuade their clients to send “large contributions” to groups working against the EFCA, as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans who could be used to help block the passage of the pro labor bill that would make it easier for employees to organize into unions.
Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, and Rick Berman, founder of the Center for Union Facts, led the hour-long phone call that framed the legislation as a threat to American capitalism. The legislation—which would allow workers to form unions either by holding traditional elections or by having a majority of employees sign written forms—is virtually certain to face a Republican filibuster. Obama and Senate Democrats have stated their commitment to the bill.
Donations of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars were needed, it was argued, to prevent America from turning “into France.” “If a retailer has not gotten involved in this, if he has not spent money on this election, if he has not sent money to [former Sen.] Norm Coleman and all these other guys, they should be shot. They should be thrown out of their goddamn jobs,” Marcus declared.
One of the callers suggested that participants send major contributions to Berman’s organization as a way of affecting the election without violating the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. “Some organizations have written checks for $250,000, $500,000, some for $2 million for this,” said the caller, likely Steven Hantler, director of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Bernie Marcus’ Marcus Foundation.
According to author Sam Stein, reform groups are sending letters to congressional committee chairs and to the head of the Congressional Oversight Panel, urging an investigation into whether bailout recipients used taxpayer money to benefit political candidates or organizations. “We’re calling for Congress to investigate whether Bank of America, AIG, or other recipients of $billions in bailout money, used taxpayer dollars to send ‘large contributions’ to any political organizations,” reads the letter. “Congress has a responsibility to oversee the $700 billion bailout of the financial services sector. That means making sure that these taxpayer funds are used transparently, and in ways that benefit regular people—not special interests.”
Berman said that there “was nothing on that call that spoke to funneling money to anybody.” Either way, Bank of America did use time and resources to host the anti-EFCA forum, on which individuals were urged to make political donations. That alone has compelled groups advocating government reform to raise concerns with Congress.
“What they’ve apparently done is taken taxpayer money and siphoned it to their political servants—right-wing Republicans,” said Rep. Alan Grayson. A letter read, “In our current system, special interests believe they can buy policies from Congress through campaign contributions, and the public believes this as well. Wall Street companies routinely spend millions in campaign contributions and lobbying to resist oversight of the practices that led to the current economic crisis.
“Bank of America is now not only getting bailout money. They are lending their name to participate in a campaign to stop workers from having a majority sign up [provision],” said Stephen Lerner, Director of the Private Equity Project at SEIU. “The biggest corporations who have created the problem are, at the very time, asking us to bail them out and then using that money to stop workers from improving their lives.”