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Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer who sits on the boards of 11 corporations, writes a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor Jr., the director of the US Chamber of Commerce. The memo, titled “Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” posits that the US business culture “is under broad attack” from a number of venues. (Reclaim Democracy 4/3/2004) Powell is a conservative Southern Democrat and former American Bar Association president who turned down a 1969 offer to sit on the Supreme Court. (Landay 8/20/2002)
Corporate Capitalism under Broad Attack - Powell is worried about “attacks” from left-wing political and social interests and organizations, whom he says want to institutionalize “socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism)” in the stead of US capitalism, but is more concerned with a few “extremist” critics who strive for many of the same goals as the “statists.” “We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre,” he writes. “Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.” Powell points to a “varied and diffused” number of attackers, including “not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists, and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority and are not yet the principal cause for concern. The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.” Television gives these voices a prominence that their numbers and ideologies should not have, he says. Powell cites university campuses and the national news media as the most troublesome and “dangerous” sources of anti-business sentiment. He cites consumer advocate Ralph Nader as “[p]erhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business,” a “legend in his own time” who, Powell writes, wants to “smash… utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power.” Nader and his colleagues want to radically revamp the corporate tax system, Powell says, to gut tax loopholes and “incentives” that keep corporate profits high and tax burdens relatively low; the same tax revisions would harshly impact America’s wealthy. Powell calls these effots “either political demagoguery or economic illiteracy,” and warns, “This setting of the ‘rich’ against the ‘poor,’ of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.” Most corporate entities and personnel have paid little to no attention to these attacks, Powell says; he acknowledges that “businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it.” But, he says, this training must commence, for the survival of America’s corporate business culture.
Fighting Back - Individual businesses must designate senior executives “whose responsibility is to counter—on the broadest front—the attack on the enterprise system,” perhaps through the various corporations’ public relations departments. The Chamber of Commerce, both the national entity and its local affiliates, must take a leadership role in organizing, streamlining, and effecting these countering activities.
Countering University Opposition - American college campuses must be targeted, Powell writes, with a particular eye to social science departments, whose members “tend to be liberally oriented, even when leftists are not present. This is not a criticism per se, as the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint. The difficulty is that ‘balance’ is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservatives or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.” Attacking academic freedom itself would be a “fatal” mistake, Powell notes, but the “liberal” and “anti-business” voices on university faculties must be “balanced” by Chamber of Commerce speakers and scholars who challenge the rhetoric coming from the universities. College textbooks must be “evaluated” by these Chamber-employed scholars to ensure that they reflect “balance,” in many instances challenging what Powell calls the rewriting of textbooks by scholars affiliated with the civil rights movement. “If the authors, publishers, and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected—honestly, fairly, and thoroughly—to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected,” he writes. Powell says that “avowed Communists” make a large number of speeches and presentations on college campuses every year—over 100 in 1970 alone—and are augmented by “many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra-liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum.” Such presentations must be “balanced” by pro-business, pro-conservative speakers, put forth “aggressively” by the Chamber and other organizations. College faculties must be “balanced” by the hiring of pro-business professors. One venue that entities such as the Chamber could successfully work through is a university’s graduate school of business. And the Chamber scholars must publish in academic journals and consumer publications such as Life and Reader’s Digest.
High School Efforts - Such efforts must be tailored and implemented on a high school level also, Powell writes.
Public Outreach - The public must be reeducated, Powell writes, to see business and corporate interests as inherently good for America. The obvious and most effective venue, he says, should be through the means of television, using educational programs, paid news analysts, and advertising as much as possible—“[i]f American business devoted only 10 percent of its total annual advertising budget to this overall purpose, it would be a statesman-like expenditure,” he writes. News forums such as Meet the Press should be constantly urged to provide “equal time” for pro-business analysts. Radio and newspaper outlets are also important for promulgating the message. Books and pamphlets made widely available are quite necessary, Powell notes.
Political Arena - Only “Marxists” insist that “capitalist” countries such as the US are controlled by big business. Indeed, Powell says, “leftist” and “socialist” interests control much of American politics, particularly in the area of messaging. “One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the ‘forgotten man,’” he writes. Advocates of “consumerism” or the “environment” dominate the political discussion, Powell states. This dominance must be challenged, and Americans must be “enlightened” as to the positive role of a powerful business culture in US politics. Business must adopt some of the more direct tactics now used by US labor groups.
The Judiciary - The US judicial system, he writes, “may be the most important instrument for social, economic, and political change.” Left-wing groups have long “exploited” the judiciary for their own ends, he says; it is time for business to exert some of the same influence in the courts and fight for its own prerogatives. “This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds,” he says. A large and competent cadre of lawyers is necessary to this end, trained to argue pro-business viewpoints in front of “activist” judges, and carefully selected cases should be advanced in the judicial system.
Neglected Stockholder Power - Powell continues: “The average member of the public thinks of ‘business’ as an impersonal corporate entity, owned by the very rich and managed by over-paid executives. There is an almost total failure to appreciate that ‘business’ actually embraces—in one way or another—most Americans. Those for whom business provides jobs, constitute a fairly obvious class. But the 20 million stockholders—most of whom are of modest means—are the real owners, the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists under our system. They provide the capital which fuels the economic system which has produced the highest standard of living in all history. Yet, stockholders have been as ineffectual as business executives in promoting a genuine understanding of our system or in exercising political influence.”
The Influence of the Stockholder - Twenty million voters are stockholders, Powell says. These people can be a powerful force for pro-business change, if educated and mobilized. Individual corporations can reach out to their stockholders through their stock reports and news publications.
A New Aggression - Corporate interests must, Powell says, “attack [those] who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.” The AFL-CIO labor union is a past master of using this kind of political pressure, Powell writes. Its practices and techniques can be adapted to serve business ends.
Relationship to Freedom - All of this must be characterized as an essential “return” to the fundamental tenets of American freedom, Powell writes. “The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom. It is this great truth—now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals—that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful. There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom—ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.” America is well on its way to institutionalized socialism, Powell warns. It is up to American business interests to counter that shift. (Powell 8/23/1971)
Effects - Powell’s memo triggers a seismic shift in the way business and corporate interests function, though the Chamber of Commerce proceeds more cautiously than Powell may hope. As a result of Powell’s memo and other influences, the Chamber, wealthy businessmen such as beer magnate Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife, and an array of corporate activists create, among other entities: the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Analysis and Research Association (ARA), Accuracy in Academe, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and other powerful organizations. When Ronald Reagan takes the presidency in 1981, they will begin to solidfy and extend the reach of their efforts. In 2002, progressive journalist Jerry Landay will write that Powell’s memo will spawn “a well-paid activist apparatus of idea merchants and marketeers—scholars, writers, journalists, publishers, and critics—to sell policies whose intent was to ratchet wealth upward. They have intimidated the mainstream media, and filled the vacuum with editors, columnists, talk-show hosts, and pundits who have turned conservatism into a career tool. They have waged a culture war to reduce the rich social heritage of liberalism to a pejorative. And they have propagated a mythic set of faux-economic values that have largely served those who financed the movement in the first place.” Landay calls Powell’s language and proposals “baldly militant” with “authoritarian overtones.”
Powell Joins Supreme Court - In January 1972, Powell will join the Supreme Court, where he will become regarded as a moderate-to-conservative justice, sympathetic to business interests but not unwilling to consider other points of view. (Though the press will subsequently publish leaked copies of the memo, no senator will ask Powell about his memo or his business interests in his confirmation hearings.) One of his most pro-business decisions is his majority opinion in 1978’s First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, in which Powell will create a First Amendment “right” for corporations to influence ballot questions. (Landay 8/20/2002; Reclaim Democracy 4/3/2004)
The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, launch the first of a number of “citizen advocacy” groups they either found or fund, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The Kochs are staunch right-wing libertarians determined to successfully combat government regulation and oversight of businesses, government taxation, and government funding of social programs (see August 30, 2010). Between 1986 and 1993, the brothers will provide $7.9 million to the group, even as it promotes itself as a “grassroots,” “citizen-driven” organization. (Such organizations that call themselves “citizen-based” while actually being founded, operated, and funded by corporate interests are called “astroturf” organizations.) Matt Kibbe, who will go on to head a Koch-funded lobbying organization, FreedomWorks, will later say of Citizens for a Sound Economy that its driving force was to take the Kochs’ “heavy ideas and translate them for mass America.… We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions—Saul Alinsky, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. We studied the idea of the Boston Tea Party as an example of nonviolent social change. We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates.” One organization participant will say that the brothers are “very controlling, very top down. You can’t build an organization with them. They run it.” By 1993, the organization will become powerful enough to successfully thwart the Clinton administration’s efforts to place a “BTU tax” on energy, and mounts successful “citizen protests” against Democrats, sometimes funnelling millions of Koch monies into the political campaigns of their Republican opponents. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The “astroturf” lobbying organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see 1984 and After) founds a spinoff group, Citizens for the Environment. This group will quickly begin calling acid rain and other environmental problems “myths.” An investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discovers that the organization has “no citizen membership of its own.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), an “astroturf” advocacy organization funded by the Koch brothers (see 1984 and After), is accused of breaking campaign laws to support the Bush re-election campaign. Oregon’s CSE branch had attempted to get consumer advocate Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot, in an attempt to dilute Democratic support for presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). Critics argue that it is illegal for a tax-exempt organization such as CSE to donate its services for partisan purposes. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses a complaint brought against the organization. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
After the 2004 presidential election, the “astroturf” organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see Late 2004) splits due to internal dissension. Oil billionaire David Koch and Koch Industries lobbyist Richard Fink (see August 30, 2010) launch a new “astroturf” organization, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009)). They hire Tim Phillips to run the organization. Phillips (see August 6, 2009) is a veteran political operative who worked closely with Republican operative Ralph Reed; the two co-founded the political consulting firm Century Strategies. Phillips’s online biography will describe him as an expert in “grasstops” and “grassroots” political organizing. Conservative operative Grover Norquist will call Phillips “a grownup who can make things happen.” In 2009, Phillips will claim that AFP has “only” 800,000 members, but its Web site will claim “1.2 million activists.” A former employee of the Cato Institute, a Koch-founded libertarian think tank, will say that AFP is “micromanaged by the Kochs” (indicating involvement by both David and Charles Koch). (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The conservative news outlet Sunshine State News notes that the conservative lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011) is paying tea party leaders to serve as “field coordinators” in Florida in preparation for the upcoming Republican presidential primary. Reportedly, AFP is paying the tea party leaders $30,000 each to help increase AFP’s membership, and $2 for every new AFP member the tea party volunteers sign up at Florida polling stations on Election Day. According to an email from the West Orlando Tea Party organizers: “Americans for Prosperity has offered many local tea party groups an opportunity to collect a few dollar$ for our cause and it revolves around the January 31st primary. Anyone who volunteers from our group will net our WOTP group $2 for every person they ‘sign up’ for AFP which involves getting the name, address, and email of local voters at local polling stations that day. They will provide us with T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other handouts to recruit like-minded conservatives.” AFP’s Florida director Slade O’Brien says, “It’s an opportunity for tea parties to raise dollars for their organizations by helping AFP with an awareness and membership drive on Tuesday.” But critics say AFP is using the same tactics conservatives have accused the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) of using—“buying foot soldiers for election work.” Former AFP state director Apryl Marie Fogel says: “It’s reprehensible. Slade is doing things we would never have considered doing.… Incentivizing people with money is no different than what ACORN or other groups are doing.… This is the opposite of what AFP stands for.” AFP has already hired 10 coordinators, with plans to hire 10 more in the coming days. One coordinator in the Tampa area, Karen Jaroch, is a founding member of the Tampa 9/12 Project chapter (see March 13, 2009 and After), and she says that AFP’s involvement “might open some doors” to building a stronger movement. O’Brien denies that AFP is working on behalf of any particular Republican candidate, and both O’Brien and Jaroch deny that AFP is working on behalf of the Newt Gingrich (R-GA) campaign. “I don’t know any field coordinators for Newt,” Jaroch says. “One favors Mitt Romney and one supports Rick Santorum. I’m undecided.” The liberal news outlet Mother Jones notes that O’Brien is a veteran political consultant whose former firm, Florida Strategies Group, “specialized in Astroturf campaigns and ‘grass-tops lobbying.’” O’Brien worked for AFP’s predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, in the 1990s. Mother Jones also speculates that the AFP drive is part of a Koch Brothers effort to construct a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters called “Themis” (see April 2010 and After). (Ward 1/30/2012; Mencimer 1/30/2012)
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