February 22, 2012

Top 6 Corporations to Occupy

The Occupy Wall Street movement has permeated across the country – the 99 percent have changed the dialogue of the 2012 election and our country’s understanding of economics, inequality, and democracy. As organizers start to regroup and set their sites on the spring, groups in 34 cities have agreed to “a day of nonviolent direct action” on Feb. 29 against corporations they accuse of working against the public interest. We nominated six we think deserve an Occupation (some are already on an initial target list):

Top 6 Corporations to Occupy1.    Corrections Corporation of America

Headquarters: Nashville, TN

Profiting off keeping people locked away is certainly a siren call for protesting the practices of Corrections Corporation, the country’s largest for-profit prison company. The corporation has recently sought to purchase prisons in 48 different states. But this offer will do little to lessen the long-term strain on state coffers. Even worse, the corporation stipulates that state prison populations must remain at least 90 percent full – not something any democracy should ever strive to pursue. To complicate matters, Corrections Corporation has deep pockets and uses its considerable might to lobby, finance, and otherwise influence politicians across the country. Corrections Corporation, based in Nashville, manages over 60 facilities in 19 states and D.C.

Meanwhile, the Occupy movement is already starting to join up with prison reformers, who seek to change the conditions that make American prisoners the most abused population in our society. Hundreds of protesters gathered at California’s state-run San Quentin prison this week to demonstrate against high incarceration rates and deplorable living conditions for inmates. Recognizing that prison reformers and Occupiers share similar goals, one Occupier, activist Barbara Becnel, quoted a message she said came from San Quentin death row prisoner Kevin Cooper: “We have merged the prison rights movement with the Occupy movement. The 99 percent has to be concerned about the bottom 1 percent.”

That should go for the bottom 1 percent who are under the jurisdiction of companies like Corrections Corporation.


Top 6 Corporations to Occupy2. Exxon

Headquarters: Irving, TX

ExxonMobil raked in huge profits last year. The oil company’s profits increased by 31 percent in 2011 as compared with 2010. But somehow, this happened while its oil and gas production fell – by 5 percent over that same period. So how does Exxon make more money while producing less oil and gas?

Tax breaks.

Exxon paid an effective tax rate of 17.6 percent, which as the Center for American Progress points out, is 3 percent less than what the average American family paid in taxes. Exxon and other big oil companies don’t pass on the benefits of these tax breaks to consumers. Instead, as CAP writes, “their board members, executives, and shareholders are the ones that profit.”

So how do these oil companies like Exxon get to spend American tax dollars on themselves? By putting even more money into the political system.

Exxon joined four other oil companies in spending $65.7 million on lobbying to retain their tax breaks. For every $1 spent on lobbying, they received $30 in tax breaks, a 3,000 percent return. Additionally, Exxon and its brethren donated over $1.6 million in campaign contributions last year, further securing the policies they like in the future.

Exxon is especially dirty among the Big 5 oil companies. It lobbied for the Keystone XL pipeline and supported climate change denial campaigns, spending $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to such groups. That’s the wrong way to spend taxpayer provided subsidies. All of this is reason enough for some to have already called for an Occupation of Exxon.

Top 6 Corporations to Occupy3. General Electric

Headquarters: Fairfield, CT

GE is one of the world’s largest corporations, with 2010 profits of $14.2 billion ($5.1 billion of which came from U.S. operations). But how much did it pay in taxes that year?


In fact, as the New York Times reports, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. Furthermore, from 2008 to 2010, G.E. spent $84 million lobbying the federal government, joining 30 other major corporations spending more on lobbying than on taxes.

In October, Occupiers recognized the symbolism behind G.E.’s exploitation of the tax system, and set out to demonstrate on CEO Jeff Immelt’s front lawn:

“In the land of the free they tax me but not G.E.!” read the invitation to take an hour bus ride to Immelt’s family home to join the protest, organized by liberal political party Connecticut Working Families. “General Electric made billions last year; they paid no taxes, outsourced thousands of jobs, and got over $3 billion in tax refunds! Join us on a free bus trip to G.E’s CEO’s front lawn to see how our friends in the 1% live.”

Given all that and considering the fact that Immelt serves as chair of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, even though during his tenure GE has steadily shipped jobs overseas, perhaps it’s time to re-Occupy.

Top 6 Corporations to Occupy4. Monsanto

Headquarters: St. Louis, MO

This giant agricultural biotechnology company is already the focus of activist groups and for good reason. Not only is Monsanto the overwhelming leader in producing genetically engineered seeds used in the United States, it also actively works to squeeze out competitors and control seed prices. The company has also targeted small farmers with ruthless legal battles, essentially forcing them to use Monsanto-branded seeds. Because of these dirty practices, Monsanto was the target of an antitrust investigation last year.

Meanwhile, Monsanto has considerable pull within the U.S. government. Most notably, former Monsanto vice president Michael Tyler is now a senior advisor to the Food and Drug Administration. A petition has circulated recently demanded that the Obama Administration “cease FDA ties to Monsanto”:

“President Obama, I oppose your appointment of Michael Taylor,” the petition on Signon.org reads. “Taylor is the same person who was Food Safety Czar at the FDA when genetically modified organisms were allowed into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks. This is a travesty.”

Top 6 Corporations to Occupy5. Bank of America

Headquarters: Charlotte, NC

“It’s not me, it’s you,” read one. “Just kidding, it’s you.”

“I’m not falling for ‘phase out’ again.”

“Who’s too big to fail?”

“It’s over, BofA.”

These were some of the Valentines sent by Occupiers to Bank of America earlier this month to break up with the bank over its controversial practices seen as unfriendly to consumers, including a recent attempt to impose a $5-a-month debit card fee. It’s too bad the government hasn’t also followed suit. BofA spent $3.2 million lobbying the government last year and about $3 million on campaign contributions in 2008.

Even while he has criticized the bank for the debit card fee and engaged with the bank on mortgage settlement talks, President Obama has decided to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC, in part to sell more skyboxes to moneyed donors.

Top 6 Corporations to Occupy6.    Walmart

Headquarters: Bentonville, Ark.

This one might be a “Duh.” But Walmart is both deserving of an occupation and easy to occupy. Sure, the company’s Arkansas headquarters aren’t exactly easily accessible for Occupiers from across the country. But Walmart’s thousands of stores nationwide are an easy target for citizens concerned with the company’s standard-setting low wages, labor issues, and steamrolling of local businesses. Moreover, while the corporation had long ago inserted itself in rural America, it now has its sites set on the country’s cities. Walmart plans to open four stores in Washington, DC, for example, and has its sites set on even more locations.

Occupy has already targeted Walmart, most notably to protest the company’s decision to cut health care benefits for full-time workers and eliminate insurance for new part-time workers. But with Walmart continuing to spend about $7.8 million a year lobbying on issues including taxes and labor, it’s worth a continued Occupation.