I’ve been trying to do lists of Underbuzzed stories since starting this last week. Today I want to talk about one. A lot of the economic debate over the last ten years or so has suggested that it’s the middle class and poor fighting off the encroachments of big business. The most obvious battlefield for this class warfare was the Citizens United decision, which legalized unprecedented levels of anonymous corporate political donations. Obviously, this represented a massive weapon big business could use to further fleece the middle class. As Mother Jones magazine reports, however, some shareholders aren’t happy about this.
They think – rightly – that their companies could be put at risk by venturing further into political giving. Home Depot will tomorrow vote on a resolution calling for transparency in the company’s giving – the shareholders behind the resolution arguing that public attention to its donations could hurt the company. And as someone in the media, I feel I’m on fairly solid ground advising them that, yes, we will be watching to see how Home Depot votes and how Home Depot donates its customers’ dollars.
But why would big business want to risk such potentially self-destructive behavior? Here’s the problem–and I think it’s at the root of the class-warfare issues we’ve been grappling with. The dynamic of class warfare has changed since the days of the company town. With a few exceptions like the Koch Brothers, most big companies are publicly owned. Which means a lot of control is in the hands of shareholders – a lot of whom are in the middle class. So why would the middle class empower big business to eviscerate the middle class? Well, they’re not. What’s happening is that shareholders have been increasingly deprived of power over their own companies.
The power is increasingly being accumulated by board members, i.e., rich people. If you’ve seen “Wall Street” you know how much some rich people value the companies they control. Boards are restructuring so that their rich executive buddies can profit even if the company doesn’t. The key to all of this is shareholder control. And the Obama SEC has been fighting to empower shareholders.
But a lawsuit has been filed to prevent shareholders from even getting their own candidates on board-nomination ballots. Who would object to such a thing? Rich people.Get more from Senior Producer Jonathan Larsen (@jtlarsen) on Twitter