Not many people know that General Electric has been a huge beneficiary of recent bank bailouts via its financial subsidiary GE Capital, which would be America’s eighth largest bank measured by total assets. Regulators changed banking rules to guarantee $340 billion in GE Capital debt, and the bank received $16 billion in cheap emergency loans from the Federal Reserve, according to Fed data released in December. All the while GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, was on the board of the NY Fed (along with another former GE executive) and a member of Obama’s economic advisory board. The conflicts of interest are obvious and, as one Fed historian put it to the NY Times, “ugly”.
After $40 million in lobbying last year, more than any other company, the returns on GE’s political investments are still flowing. Immelt was with Obama in India a few months ago when he negotiated a $10 billion export deal benefitting GE, and Obama stood at a GE plant in New York as he named Immelt to lead his new economic advisory council, which looks like it will focus on making America’s laws, taxes, and labor force even more business-friendly.
Interestingly, the deep conflicts surrounding Obama’s promotion of Immelt have provoked the strongest criticism from libertarian think tank FreedomWorks, which has close ties to the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The Kochs are energy moguls notorious for their financing of dozens of free-market political forces, from free-market think tanks to Tea Party affiliates. Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article about the Koch brothers shows how their influence through political and nonprofit financing is both unequalled and self-interested. The Kochs are fiercely opposed to bank bailouts, economic stimulus, and climate regulation. Immelt has been a high-profile supporter of all of these — perhaps because they’ve profited GE — and GE’s campaign contributions have leaned Democratic in recent years. That’s probably why he’s so close to Obama, and why the Koch brothers and groups like FreedomWorks want him to go away.
FreedomWorks and the NCPPR, another free-market think tank, have launched a campaign to “dethrone” Immelt from GE, calling him the “king of crony capitalism”, and are running ads attacking Immelt’s conflicts of interest as a blatant sign of corruption. “It’s time to break up the unethical romance between government and big business,” said FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe in a statement. “For too long, corporate elites have lobbied to profit from the size and growth of government at the expense of hard-working Americans.”
FreedomWorks has it wrong. It’s not the size and growth of government that ensured minimal financial regulations and generous bailouts for well-connected banks like GE Capital, it’s the size and growth of finance and its influence over government. Relative to expanding financial markets, regulations and regulatory bodies are not growing, they’re shrinking. Still, FreedomWorks can apparently exploit anger about Obama’s dirty dancing with bailed-out corporate elites to rally support for further dismantling of government oversight and regulation.
The beast of corporate power is feeding off its own corruption.