By: Timothy P. Carney
August 26, 2009
"The intersection between GE's interests and government action is clearer than ever," General Electric Vice Chairman John G. Rice wrote in an Aug.
19 e-mail to colleagues.
Rice was calling on his co-workers to join the General Electric Political Action Committee. "GEPAC is an important tool that enables GE employees to
collectively help support candidates who share the values and goals of GE."
The full letter suggests that "share the values and goals of GE" really means "support policies that profit the company."
Steve Milloy, a pro-free market investor at the Free Enterprise Action Fund, obtained this e-mail and says it reveals General Electric for what it
really is. "GE is lobbying to become the biggest rent seeker this country has ever seen," Milloy told this column. Rent seeking is using government
legislation or regulation to generate private profits the free market wouldn't provide.
"On climate change," Rice wrote, "we were able to work closely with key authors of the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, recently passed by
the House of Representatives. If this bill is enacted into law it would benefit many GE businesses."
Most of all, Waxman-Markey would profit a GE joint venture called Greenhouse Gas Services, which deals in greenhouse gas credits, products that have
value only if a cap-and-trade bill like Waxman-Markey passes.
The leaked e-mail shows how tightly GE connects PAC contributions and lobbying efforts. "Our Company is heavily impacted by a number of issues
pending in Washington this fall," Rice wrote.
GE spent more on lobbying in the second quarter of this year than did any other company, according to federal lobbying files. Since 1998, GE has been
the king of lobbying expenditures, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, outpacing its runner-up by 40 percent.
Last election, GEPAC spent $2.4 million, with a slim majority going to Democrats. So far this year, two-thirds of GEPAC money has gone to
Rice's description of how PAC contributions help the company ("we must also make sure that candidates who share GE's values and goals get elected
to office") belies the true dynamic in political giving, as the rest of the e-mail suggests.
By calling for PAC contributions in the context of GE's lobbying efforts in coming weeks, Rice is clearly not talking about electing pro-GE
candidates in November 2010. He is talking about making current congressman more pro-GE.
If GEPAC was just trying to "make sure that candidates who share GE's values and goals get elected to office," why would the PAC give $15,000 each
to the Republican and Democratic senatorial campaign committees? Those contributions cancel each other out if they are considered ammunition for
allies in electoral battles. But they complement one another if they are considered the ticket price to access with lawmakers.
The recipient list of GEPAC cash also suggests the PAC is more about access to power brokers than support for friendly politicians.
Rep. Charlie Rangel of Harlem received $2,000 from GEPAC. He is not in electoral danger, but he is chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means
Committee. Rep. Henry Waxman of Hollywood also doesn't need GE's help getting elected, but the $1,000 from GEPAC might make Waxman, who's chairman
of the Commerce Committee, more amenable to a GE-friendly climate bill or health care reform bill.
Of the six House members who have received more than $4,000 from GEPAC this cycle -- all Democrats -- only Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., faces a tough
re-election next year, thanks to accusations that he has used his chairmanship of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee to benefit donors and
patrons. GE is a top defense contractor.
The other top recipients are all safe incumbents in powerful positions: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, House
Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, Ways and Means member Richard Neal, who chairs the subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, and key appropriator Norm
The "intersection between GE's interests and the government's actions" is plenty crowded. GE is betting on climate change legislation, high-speed
rail funding, electric car subsidies, embryonic stem cell grants, expanded federal health care spending, subsidies for renewable energy, defense
contracts and continued financial bailouts.
GEPAC pays the tolls to make sure all this traffic gets through.