Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Must read: @Salon on Lobbyists Posing as Think Tanks

This is a must read. My first reaction was: this is not new, this is old hat. But the intentional misleading might be categorized as new. I have been doing some work on the problem of uneven political influence and how that fits in with the narrative of tax compliance (i.e., when the lobbyists write the rules, is it any wonder that GE, Apple, Google, Starbucks, etc, can say with pride that they dutifully comply with all applicable laws), and I have suggested that what is needed is more policy input from those who do not themselves stand to benefit directly from promoting a particular policy direction, namely, academics who research subjects for the purpose of increasing human knowledge. This means that in my view academics--which includes anyone who calls herself a researcher in any capacity--should always provide detailed disclosure of funding whenever publishing anything, so that the public can distinguish between advertising/advocacy and information.*

This is getting increasingly tough in our uber-consumer oriented society but we must stay vigilant about this, hence the dire need for organizations around the world doing things like the Center for Media and Democracy did here. In this story Salon hits the target directly on why disclosing pecuniary interests is critical to ensuring that public discourse does not fall to the fate of political representation in a nominally democratic but factually plutocratic society, namely, pay to play.

The concluding sentence says it all:
Certainly corporations have a right to have their voice heard, but that voice should be their own, not that of a phony expert on retainer.
* Note that this doesn't in any way mean that getting funding for engaging in research is inherently bad. It means that it is relevant to the conversation because some people find it politically expedient to provide funding in order to obtain specific findings and disseminate those findings as credible on the facts, and as an academic you ought not to want to be associated with that sort of propaganda, so you want to disclose your sources of support. In my view the research question should attract the funding and not the other way around. 


  1. Allison, thank you for posting this to remind us all how important this is.

    On a related note, I wrote the following back in March in an article on the Forbes website in regard to international tax reform:

    " Is “territoriality” the only tax reform option to replace our present “deferral” system for taxing U.S. based multinational corporations? Is it inevitable? You might think so from what one often reads in the press.

    "Maybe that’s because 99% of the few folks who understand what “deferral” and “territoriality” mean work for the multinationals (MNCs) that would benefit from adopting territoriality or for the law, accounting and lobbying firms that are well paid to service the MNCs. Most reporters don’t understand these concepts and can do little more than repeat what the 99% feeds them. Most politicians don’t get it either; although they do understand where their campaign contributions come from. Even our President was recently reported to have said that he might back a territorial system, although the most recent word from the White House is that “a pure territorial system” probably would not be the best way to achieve tax reform.

    "As for the other 1%, well, those are mostly law school professors without lobbyists. (Full disclosure: I provided international tax advice for more than 30 years to MNCs and now teach lawyers how to do likewise within a graduate tax program at the University of Washington School of Law.)"

    In case anyone wants to see the entire piece (not too long and written for a non-technical audience), the link is:

    Best regards.

    Jeff Kadet

    1. Thanks Jeff, this is absolutely spot on. It is a constant source of amazement to me how the public can be so easily persuaded that multinationals should be let out of the US tax net while people living in other countries with US status should be firmly trapped within it. If the US goes territorial for corporations but keeps citizenship based taxation it will be the most unjust system on the planet--it's very close to taking that title as it is.