Shareholders Have Power: It's Up To Them To Use It
The irony of the corporate power debate is that we, the people, own these corporations, and their CEOs are our employees ("Too much corporate power?" Cover Story, Sept. 11). Through pension funds, mutual funds, and individuals' shareholdings, most stock is owned by middle-class Americans, not by the superrich.
This irony can become the solution. As more of us vote our stock via the Internet, competing "infomediaries" will enable us to influence corporate policy. An organized shareowners' voice can moderate CEO pay and balance profit-maximization with social goals. Making corporations accountable to owners will lessen the destructive "us vs. them" attitudes that pervade this controversy.
Potential candidates for the infomediary role include pension funds that have begun posting their voting decisions on the Web (California Public Employees Retirement System, Domini Social Investments, Pax World Fund) and proxy advisory firms (Institutional Shareholder Services, Proxy Monitor Inc., Investor Responsibility Research Center).
Corporate Monitoring Project
The fact that 72% of the polled citizens of the United States believe corporations have too much power over our lives is astonishing, especially when record numbers of Americans are invested in the stock market. If these people truly believe this, then they would not invest in the corporations that rule their lives, thus taking their power away. Obviously, this is not the case. I am thinking there are a lot of hypocrites out there if they agreed with Al Gore's criticisms of big corporations but have money in mutual funds and stocks.
Wake up. If you want what you put your money into to have more than one purpose (owe something to workers and communities and sacrifice some profit for the sake of making things better), then put your money in some kind of charity, not Corporate America. If you want to make money, invest in corporations.
In this election year, corporate influence-peddling has become a lightning rod issue. With nearly three-fourths of Americans saying that big companies have too much political influence, the yellow light is flashing brightly for giant corporations.
At least one corporation has reacted. After several years of direct grassroots pressure, HCA: The Healthcare Company (formerly Columbia/HCA) broke dramatically with its own past practices and the prevailing standards among large corporations. HCA has instituted limits on its role in public policymaking that extend well beyond adherence to loophole-ridden campaign finance laws. New HCA policies restricting the corporation's political activity are backed up by actions such as a halt to soft-money contributions in the 2000 election cycle and a dramatic reduction in its lobbying force.
Your article and HCA's changes demonstrate that through our consumer choices and capacity to affect corporate images and brands, ordinary people are demanding and achieving real change from big business.
We cannot rely on corporations to exercise any meaningful self-regulation. This must come from government. The fact that citizen groups have had some success in fighting the more insidious excesses of industry is to their credit but, more importantly, a testimony to the failure of the legislatures to perform their job in representing the interests of the voters and the country at large. As long as massive contributions from industry (and unions) dominate the political process, we will have a government that is not truly responsive to the will of the people.
Ralph Nader reminds us that with wealth comes responsibility. He reminds us that by turning over our political system to corporations, we have given up our power as voters. He reminds us that we have unsolved environmental and social problems and that we are piling on more as we continue to allow industry to forge ahead without meaningful public accounting and control.
Paul W. Rosenberger
Manhattan Beach, Calif.