Corporations and other business interests spend billions of dollars each year on election campaigns and lobbying. (See this previous post for details.) This spending is an investment in influencing public policies and the way they are (or are not) enforced. It provides benefits that are much, much greater than what the businesses spend.

(Note: If you find my posts too much to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making.)

Here are some examples of what they get in return for their lobbying and campaign spending:

  • Deregulation so they can maximize profits with little regard for the safety of workers and the public or the fair treatment of customers and employees.
  • Lack of enforcement of antitrust laws, so they can become as big and as powerful as possible, while swallowing up or squashing competition.
  • Low tax rates and tax loopholes that allow them to minimize the taxes they pay.
  • Regulations, such as patent laws, that stymie competition.
  • Government bailouts when they’re in trouble.
  • Financial laws and regulations that facilitate acquisitions and mergers, including the vulture capitalism of hedge funds and private equity, such as bankruptcy laws (see this post for more detail) that allow rewarding executives and shareholders while ripping off every other stakeholder.

The safety risks of deregulation are apparent in the derailment of the Norfolk Southern train in Ohio on February 3, 2023, and the toxic nightmare that’s been the result. In 2017, after the railroad industry put over $6 million into Republican campaigns and millions more into lobbying, the Trump Administration repealed a regulation enacted by the Obama Administration that required better braking systems on rail cars carrying hazardous materials. Norfolk Southern and other railroads lobbied for its repeal because they claimed the regulation would be costly and wouldn’t increase safety that much. The railroad industry also lobbied to limit the regulation by defining the “high-hazard flammable trains” (HHFTs) that it would cover to include only trains carrying oil and not ones with industrial chemicals. The train that recently derailed in Ohio was NOT classified as a HHFT! [1] (See this previous post for more details on the railroad industry’s deregulation, consolidation, monopolistic behavior, working conditions, and soaring profits.)

In the aftermath of the train derailment, President Biden pointed out that deregulation has compromised Americans’ safety. He stated that “Rail companies have spent millions of dollars to oppose common-sense safety regulations. And it’s worked. This is more than a train derailment or a toxic waste spill – it’s years of opposition to safety measures coming home to roost.” [2]

Despite their rhetoric about the free market, big corporations do not want to compete for customers or for workers. Because of forty years of failure to enforce antitrust laws, monopolistic corporations dominate the U.S. economy from airlines to food processing to oil and gas to beer, banks, and health care. (See this post for more details.) For example, since 2006, banking regulators have processed 3,500 bank merger applications and haven’t stopped a single one.

To avoid competing for customers, huge monopolistic corporations eliminate competitors via the extreme capitalism they have gotten the government to allow, which includes wiping out small businesses. The dominant corporations buy small business competitors and swallow them, or drive them out of business with their market place power. For example, in the last decade, nearly 20,000 small businesses have been eliminated from the military goods and services market by the five huge defense contractors. Amazon did this in the book selling market and now does this in other markets as well.

Among other things, huge corporations that dominate an industry have monopolistic pricing power. Therefore, during the pandemic, these dominant corporations have been able to engage in price gouging to increase their profits. The best estimates are that between 40% and 53% of the inflation consumers have experienced over the last year is due to corporate price gouging. (See this post for more details.)

Huge, dominant corporations have dramatic negative effects on the economy if they get into trouble, therefore they’re too big to let fail. So, they get government bailouts when they’re in danger. The big banks and financial corporations got trillions of dollars in bailouts in the aftermath of the 2008 financial catastrophe they created. More recently, the airlines – the four huge airlines that are left after consolidation in this industry – got $25 billion in a government bailout during the pandemic. Nonetheless, they laid off thousands of workers, are now raising fares and fees at an exorbitant rate, schedule flights they know they don’t have the workers to fly, and are squeezing workers and customers to increase profits. [3]

Big businesses don’t want to compete for workers, so they have imposed non-compete clauses on many employees in many industries, including the fast-food industry. These non-compete clauses are in employment contracts employees are required to sign and prevent an employee from going to work for a competitor. This means lower wages for workers and less turnover, both of which boost corporate profits. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed banning non-compete clauses and big businesses are apoplectic about having to compete for workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, big businesses’ powerful trade association and political megaphone, along with 99 other industry associations, have written a letter to the FTC to complain.

In terms of taxes, the effective tax rate for large, profitable corporations (i.e., what they actually pay) has fallen from 16% in 2014 to 9% in 2018. Furthermore, the portion of large, profitable corporations paying no corporate income tax has increased to 34%. This has occurred in part because of the 2017 Republican tax law that cut the maximum, theoretical corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and added even more loopholes to a tax code already riddled with them. Corporate taxes are now less than 11% of government revenue; in the 1950s, they were over 30% of revenue. [4]

The ever-increasing wealth of large corporations and rich individuals gives them plenty of money to spend on election campaigns and lobbying. This enhances their political power and allows them to tilt the playing field further and further in their favor, from lax antitrust enforcement to favorable tax and bankruptcy laws to weak regulations to employer-leaning labor laws. This lets them disempower workers (see this post for more details) and destroy communities. It leads to rising prices for housing, food, and medical care; to lower pay and worse working conditions; to the degradation of the quality of the information we get from mass media; and to further concentration of wealth and power.

All of this undermines democracy. It’s past time to take on American corporatocracy and reinvigorate democracy. My next post will discuss current and potential future strategies for fighting back against monopolistic corporations.

[1]      Cox Richardson, H., 2/15/23, “Letters from an American blog,” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/february-15-2023)

[2]      Cox Richardson, H., 2/22/23, “Letters from an American blog,” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/february-22-2023)

[3]      Warren, Senator E., 2/15/23, “Keynote speech at the Renewing the Democratic Republic Conference,” Open Markets Institute (https://www.warren.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/FINAL%20-%20Senator%20Warren%20Speech%20Antitrust%20Open%20Markets%202023.pdf)

[4]      U.S. Government Accountability Office, 12/14/22, “Corporate income tax: Effective rates before and after 2017 law change,” (https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-23-105384)


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