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The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future

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A New Book from PC President Robert Weissman

Long-time corporate accountability crusaders Robert Weissman, Public Citizen president, and Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president emeritus, investigate how giant corporations corrupt the policy-making process to block reforms favored by overwhelming majorities of the American people, and to enrich themselves through far-reaching corporate welfare schemes. 

The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future And What We Can Do About It pulls back the curtain on the hidden tactics that big corporations employ to have their way in Washington, D.C. and state capitols and city halls across the nation.

Book cover for: "The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future"

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“Americans understand in their gut how much our politics is under the thumb of big special interests… This book shows how.”
– Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

“… A powerful new textbook for how we ensure the American people can have the final word. For anyone looking to organize instead of agonize in the age of big business and dark money, this book is required reading.”
– Senator Edward Markey


  • Roughly 90 percent of Americans want Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
  • More than 80 percent of Americans want to end Dark Money—secret spending—in elections.
  • In fact, there’s virtual unanimity among the public about the need to transform the campaign funding system. The only debate is between those who favor “fundamental changes” and those who think it should be “completely rebuilt.”
  • Three-quarters of Americans want stricter limits on smog. Even given the false choice between environmental protection and economic growth, voters overwhelmingly favor environmental protection.
  • By a greater than a 2-1 margin, voters support empowering Americans to sue mega-corporations directly when they violate federal regulations.
  • More than 3 in 4 Americans believe CEOs should be held accountable for the crimes their companies commit, including being sent to jail, because there should be real consequences to corporate wrongdoing.
  • Eight in 10 Americans think the minimum wage is too low, and a strong majority favor raising it to $15 an hour (more than double the current federal minimum).
  • Four in 5 Americans support a requirement for paid family and medical leave.
  • Three quarters of Americans want the government to do more to protect online privacy.

The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future explains how to give corporate outlaws a steady diet of citizen law and order. You should take it personally, to be read, used and diffused all the way to the U.S. Congress.”
– Ralph Nader

“…This book shows you how corporations are turning the government against the public interest and how we can make it work for We the People.”
– Representative Pramila Jayapal

About the Authors

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen and an expert on corporate and government accountability. At Public Citizen, he has helped lead the charge for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, lower the price of prescription drugs and advance corporate accountability. He worked as director of the corporate accountability organization Essential Action from 1995 to 2009. From 1989 to 2009, he was editor of the Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracked multinational corporations. He previously worked as a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. With Russell Mokhiber, Weissman is co-author of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for Mega-Profits and the Attack on Democracy and On the Rampage: Corporations Plundering the Global Village (both Common Courage Press). He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

Joan Claybrook was president of Public Citizen from 1982 until she retired in 2009. During that time she played a key role in many successful advocacy campaigns, including enactment of the McCain-Feingold law that placed federal limits on money in political campaigns, preventing enactment of a federal law that would have limited consumer rights to sue multinational companies for sale of defective products, securing congressional enactment of a mandate for airbags in all consumer vehicles which have saved over 60,000 lives in the U.S., and laws to prevent vehicle rollover and to require rear cameras in all vehicles. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977-1981 to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, where she issued the airbag rule, the first ever federal fuel economy standards, tire safety rules and initiated the New Car Assessment Program requiring motor vehicle manufacturers to label their new cars with safety data to inform consumers before purchase. This consumer information program has been copied across the world. Before serving as NHTSA Administrator she worked with Ralph Nader to create Congress Watch, Public Citizen’s lobby arm. She is a graduate of Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and Georgetown University Law Center and received honorary degrees from both.

“…Too few people in power are standing up for the hard-working middle class. This book empowers average Americans to strip corporations of their stranglehold on the country.”
– Representative Jackie Speier (ret.)

“Weissman and Claybrook, two premier democracy champions, not only detail how moneyed elites rig the system, but more importantly how we ordinary Americans can battle the bastards – and win.”
– Jim Hightower, New York Times best-selling author

Q & A with Robert Weissman

What was your motivation to write The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future? Why now?

Robert Weissman: Starting in 2016 and running through today, the candidacy, presidency, post presidency and candidacy again of Donald Trump has monopolized political coverage and discussion in the United States. There’s good reason for that: Donald Trump and the authoritarian movement he has cultivated constitute an unprecedented threat to democracy in the United States.

But the focus on Trump has diverted attention from the underlying reality of our political economy: Corporations are the most powerful force in society. They do good, but they also inflict enormous, preventable harm: ripping off consumers, cheating workers, polluting neighborhoods, denying access to health care, fueling the climate crisis, and much more. Corporations dominate our politics and set the boundaries for policy debate. It’s corporate power, more than anything else, that blocks the progress Americans say they want on issue after issue. And while corporations block the government from acting to advance the public interest, they regularly manipulate governmental policy to win hundreds of billions of dollars in wasteful contracts, monopoly protections, subsidies and more.

All of this makes the country more unjust, more unequal, more unhealthy, more polluted. Governmental failure fuels cynicism, disillusionment, disengagement and conspiracy theories.

The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future aims to redirect attention to the real culprits, the entities ultimately responsible for the government not doing its job: the giant corporations that dominate our economy, politics, culture and society.

In The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future, you argue that Americans agree on more than they realize. What do you mean?

Weissman: It’s conventional wisdom that the country is more polarized than any time in memory, and in many ways this is plainly true. But the conventional wisdom obscures an equally important truth: The American people overwhelmingly agree on a wide range of policies: raising the minimum wage, cracking down on excessive executive pay, raising taxes on corporations, strengthening enforcement against corporate misconduct, breaking up monopolies, ending Big Pharma’s pricing abuses, protecting clean air and water, requiring paid family and medical leave, protecting online privacy, and ending Big Money dominance of elections.

On each of these topics, it’s not a close call. The polling shows at least 2-1 support for all of these measures. On many items, like addressing Big Pharma price gouging and ending Big Money dominance of elections, 90 percent of Americans agree. By point of reference, only 80 percent of Americans believe the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the reverse.

The commonality of all these policies, of course, is that they involve restraining corporate power.

Corporate political spending is a throughline of The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future. Why do you place so much emphasis on that?

Weissman: Although Americans are united in hating the corporate influence that they correctly perceive corrupts policymaking in Washington, D.C., state capitols and even city halls, the problem is actually worse than many people realize.

An already very bad problem was made dramatically worse by the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrendous 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That case established a right for corporations to spend whatever they want to influence election outcomes. It facilitated a huge uptick in political spending by billionaires and corporations, and super-charged Dark Money and Super PAC spending.

Super PACs, Dark Money groups and other outside organizations now spend 25 times more on elections than before Citizens United. And the money is coming from a very small number of people and corporations: Just 25 people are responsible for almost half of all Super PAC spending since Citizens United.

All of this, and more, gives corporations and the billionaire class a dominant influence over elections – but not just election outcomes. They help determines who runs for office, the boundaries of what they can say, what policies are taken seriously in Washington, what politicians are scared to say and do, and what policies get enacted.

And, as we show in The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future, the problem is not just campaign spending. Corporations exert gigantic influence through their lobbyists, their advertising and PR campaigns, funding think tanks, supporting nonprofits, running fake grassroots campaigns and more. We provide a lot of specific examples of how this all plays out in the book.

There’s a lot of talk right now about “government socialism.” What’s your take?

Weissman: Leave aside the laughable notion that America is a socialist country or that, for example, expanding the reach of Medicare would make us socialist. What’s so striking about so many who denounce “socialism” is their utter hypocrisy.

Because one thing that’s abundantly clear is that the federal government works best for the rich and powerful, conferring hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, giveaways, tax breaks and other forms of corporate welfare on giant corporations.

This unspoken reality is related directly to the political power of giant corporations, as well as political alienation in America. Why do corporations receive such massive handouts? Because of their political power. How do people feel when they see – or, more frequently, sense – this political rigging? Outraged, hopeless and alienated.

Here’s an example: In 2003, Congress created the Medicare drug insurance program for seniors. That act contained a provision prohibiting Medicare from negotiating the prices of the drugs it was now compelled to purchase. That provision was delivered by the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Billy Tauzin – who soon left Congress to become the head of Big Pharma’s trade association. The prohibition on Medicare price negotiation costs taxpayers about half a trillion dollars over the course of a decade, and Big Pharma has aggressively defended that provision for nearly two decades. After a long battle, the Inflation Reduction Act will permit negotiation of a handful of drugs, clawing back maybe $100 billion of the rip-off – but still permitting Big Pharma to maintain the vast portion of its swindle.

The corporate welfare receipts are staggering: In addition to the pharmaceutical rip-off, the Trump tax cuts threw $750 billion in savings at big corporations; Medicare’s partial privatization is costing taxpayers hundreds of billions to swell insurance company coffers; military contractor bloat costs, very conservatively, half a trillion. (All of these figures are over the period of a decade.)

The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future focuses especially on three industries: Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Tech. Why do you zoom in on these three?

Weissman: We wanted to tell specific stories in the book, not just deal in generalities. Homing in on particular industries enabled us do that more effectively.

We looked at Big Pharma because it is the biggest lobbying force in Washington, D.C., by far. Big Pharma lobbies so much because it is so dependent on the federal government: it relies on government investment in research and development (R&D); it wants the fruits of that R&D at a low cost and with no obligation to charge reasonable prices; its pricing power comes from the government grant of monopolies and other exclusivities; it needs a compliant Food and Drug Administration; and it aims to defend its Medicare price gouging. We rely on Big Pharma to provide us with medicines we need, but it is too often reckless when it comes to safety, it touched off the opioid addiction crisis, and its high prices deprive people in the United States and around the world of life-saving medicines.

We turned to Big Oil because it has played such a central role in our economy over the last 100 years and, especially, because of its role in creating the climate crisis. The problem is not just, or even primarily, that the burning of Big Oil’s product is driving climate chaos. It’s that Big Oil has deployed its political power to spread lies – to deny and sow doubt about the realities of climate science – and to block action in the United States and around the world to speed the needed transition to a clean energy future. The only thing remotely comparable to the scale of preventable damage from corporate disinformation is the decades-long campaign by Big Tobacco to obscure the health risks of smoking, but even that pales in comparison.

And we focused on Big Tech because the Big Companies have, in a few short decades, grown to become the largest corporations in the world. The Big Tech business model has isolated individuals, divided communities, fostered hate and served up consumers as mere collections of data to be surveilled, marketed to and exploited. The result has been a rise in youth mental health problems, the spread of authoritarian and conspiratorial thinking, and the weakening of social ties. The profound unease we feel about the future of society owes a great deal to how Big Tech is carving us up – and when We the People through our government aim to impose guardrails on Big Tech’s business model, the giant corporations leverage their political power to block even modest reform.

If Americans agree on so much, what’s stopping them from winning the measures they favor?

Weissman: The short and most important answer is: corporate power. And that’s what the book documents. In case after case, what the people want is overwhelmed by what the corporations demand. Their economic and social power gives them unfair political leverage, and then their political expenditures overwhelm general public sentiment.

But there’s another crucial part of this equation. When people see Big Money dominating elections, when they see the government lavishing tax breaks on giant corporations, when they see money for defense contractors but no money for day care providers, they grow cynical. They stop believing that the government belongs to We the People and that civic activism can make a difference. For some people, the next step is to fall prey to authoritarian demagogues. For most, the next step is to withdraw from civic engagement – for if you can’t influence the process, why bother? Either way, people stop fighting for the things they care about – the things that most Americans agree upon.

The purpose of the book is to explain all this, precisely to counter cynicism and alienation. Yes, corporate abuses are pervasive and systemic. But when We the People lean into the political process, our (flawed) democracy gives us the power to win transformative change and make our nation cleaner and safer, more fair and more just. Every forward step in our nation’s history has come from people organizing and demanding change, typically against great odds and great powers. But their persistence has prevailed. We can do the same.

The Corporate Sabotage of America’s Future shines a spotlight on the core problem – corporate power – and offers 10 clear steps we can take to start moving in the right direction.”
– Annie Leonard, former executive director of Greenpeace US and author of Story of Stuff.