Government When They Need It

Public Citizen Will Expose the Business Lobby’s Goal of Using the Coronavirus to Serve Its Purposes

By Taylor Lincoln

When industries face crises, their leaders and lobbyists often turn to the government to serve their purposes. The practice of businesses profiting through risky behavior then demanding bailouts when their gambles fail has been summarized as privatizing gains and socializing losses. This dynamic will be on vivid display as Congress wrestles with how to address the coronavirus crisis.

Public Citizen will in the coming months publish reports on industry lobbyists’ inevitable quest to exploit the coronavirus crisis both by vacuuming up public funds and by gutting public protections and workers’ rights.

Unlike the underlying causes of the Savings & Loan and financial crises of previous decades, corporate America did not cause the spread of the coronavirus. But some businesses’ current needs for public bailout money are similar due to risky behaviors over the past decade, such as depleting their reserves to supercharge their stock prices and executive compensation.

As the economic catastrophe worsens, business lobbyists will almost certainly seek to route bailout money to corporate treasuries, not employees or everyday Americans. While they hunt for public dollars, lobbyists will try to use the coronavirus crisis to get longstanding wishes fulfilled. This phenomenon is already on display as Republicans in Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are seeking to condition additional coronavirus relief funds on creating corporate immunity from litigation.

Federal lobbying expenditures in the first quarter of 2020 roughly equaled the previous record, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. More than 1,500 lobbyists worked on the $2.2 trillion CARES Act last quarter, and that work did not begin in earnest until the quarter’s final month. Everyday Americans have little representation in Washington. It’s unlikely that many of the 1,500 lobbyists who sought to influence the CARES Act were advocating for improved worker safety standards, mandatory paid sick time or other public needs.

Corporate demands to eviscerate environmental protections, consumer safeguards, worker safety rules, wage and hour laws, legal accountability and regulatory enforcement – along with perpetual appeals for ever more tax cuts –  have reached a crescendo during the Trump administration, which is inclined to say “yes” to requests beyond lobbyists’ wildest dreams.

In the coming months, corporate lobbyists’ unbridled demands will collide with the public’s needs  – vastly intensified by the effects of the coronavirus – for investments to address economic insecurity, a decaying infrastructure and insufficient access to health care.

The coronavirus crisis will likely reshape the American economy. The question is how?

Future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously and eloquently wrote in 1913, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

Now, more than ever, most people would agree that we need an effective disinfectant – and not one that kills. At Public Citizen, we intend to release a series of reports  to shine that light on the hurdles posed by corporate greed in the nation’s quest to solve this crisis.