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Money and the Public Interest (fwd)

> With the ascendancy of corporate power in America came the rise of its
> primary countervailing force -- citizen activism and a vibrant public
> interest movement. 
> Citizens organized to fight the myriad ills inflicted on society by
> corporate power -- from pollution and corruption, to child labor and
> consumer fraud. 
> But some of those once vibrant citizen institutions have now morphed into
> unresponsive bureaucracies. Worse yet, many have been corrupted by
> corporate funders. No wonder corporate America gets away with its ongoing
> wave of crime and violence -- much of the opposition has been neutralized. 
> Take the Greenlining Institute as a case in point. 
> Based in California, the Greenlining Institute is considered by many to be
> a major public interest group that fights insurance company and bank
> redlining -- thus its name. 
> But in fact, a big chunk of the group's funding comes from those same
> giant corporations the Greenlining Institute was set up to counter. 
> Over 80 percent of the Institute's $1.1 million budget in 1997, for
> example, came from major corporations, according to the group's most
> recent financial disclosure statement filed with the Attorney General of
> California. 
> In 1997, Union Bank gave $235,000. Southern California Edison gave
> $114,494, Merrill Lynch 88,489. And on down the list. 
> And on big bread and butter issues that affect the masses of California
> consumers, the Institute has pulled its punches and sided with its
> industry funders. 
> In 1998, in the most problematic case, the Institute sided with the
> utility industry to defeat Proposition 9, an initiative that would have
> rolled back a taxpayer funded bailout of the utility companies for bad
> nuclear investments, among others. 
> Another case in point: Last month, three consumer groups -- Consumer
> Action, Gray Panthers, and the National Consumers League -- held a press
> conference in Washington, D.C. announcing the launch of a "nationwide
> education campaign for seniors considering HMOs." 
> And where exactly did the $150,000 come from to fund this campaign?
> PacifiCare Health Systems Inc., the nation's fifth largest managed care
> company and operator of the country's largest Medicare HMO, Secure
> Horizons. 
> This kind of corporate funding is apparently new for Gray Panthers. 
> But it is nothing new for the National Consumers League -- an organization
> that was started at the turn of the century to eliminate child labor, but
> has morphed into a budding accounts receivable for corporate funders. 
> Nor for Consumer Action. According to editorial director Linda Sherry, two
> years ago, the group was 100 percent funded by corporations. Currently,
> Consumer Action gets money from both big corporations and big government.
> Pacific Bell recently gave $100,000 to fund a Consumer Action project on
> telephone fraud. 
> Earlier this month, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC),
> the country's largest and oldest Hispanic organization, endorsed the
> proposed merger between Bell Atlantic and GTE. 
> There was no mention in LULAC's press release both GTE and Bell Atlantic
> are yearly contributors to LULAC. GTE gives $25,000 a year, and Bell
> Atlantic gives $35,000 a year. 
> LULAC executive director Brent Wilkes said that in July 1998, the
> companies asked LULAC to support the merger. LULAC president Rick Dovalina
> met with the CEOs of both companies to work out the agreement. 
> Wilkes said that during the meetings, LULAC demanded specific "assurances
> and deliverables." 
> "We were looking for companies that would be spun off," Wilkes said. "GTE
> is selling some of their companies in Texas and in the Southwest. They
> have specifically held one of their telephone companies out of the normal
> auction process. And we helped select an Hispanic owned business
> partnership that would take that company." 
> When asked whether he was concerned about appearances of impropriety,
> Wilkes said "we are not." 
> "We have never tied support from the companies to our policy decisions,"
> he said. 
> When asked why the companies would want LULAC's support, Wilkes said --
> "to help with their regulatory process." 
> Wilkes said he believes the merger will benefit consumers. 
> But more independent consumer groups, including the Washington, D.C.-based
> Consumer Project on Technology (CPT), disagree. "We don't want the merger
> to go through," said CPT's Jamie Love. "GTE was in a position to compete
> against Bell Atlantic. Now, they won't be." 
> There are independent consumer groups who refuse to take money, or be
> influenced by, big corporations. But increasingly, bigger wads of money
> are being waved in front of weak-kneed advocates seeking some green
> comfort. Consumers beware. 
> Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
> Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
> Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
> Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Common Courage Press,
> 1999; see http://www.corporatepredators.org).
> (c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
> Focus on the Corporation is a weekly column written by Russell Mokhiber
> and Robert Weissman. Please feel free to forward the column to friends or
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