If I didn’t know better, I’d think corporate wrongdoers have decided to come clean with the American public about all the harm they’re causing. Every time you turn around, there’s some new “transparency” bill coming out of their lobby shops.
Take translucence-sounding bills like the “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act,” peddled to states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or one called “Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting” (TIPAC). Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support these bills (e.g., see them praise enactment of one in Arkansas this week), while at the same time working to limit state Attorney General consumer protection authority and oust pro-consumer AG’s. These so-called “sunshine” bills would accomplish the same general goals by, among other things, making it harder for states to find competent counsel in costly and complex cases against corporate lawbreakers, while allowing these same lawbreakers to spend an unlimited amount of resources on their own attorneys. (See more here.) Does anyone really think transparency is the goal here?
Or take the asbestos industry’s FACT Act, aka the "Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2015," which we last covered here. As we noted before, the asbestos industry engaged in one of the worst corporate cover-ups in history just so they wouldn’t have to pay compensation to their victims, and they still insist on confidentially when settling cases. So now, they want Congress to pass a bill requiring asbestos trusts to disclose on a public web site private, confidential information about every asbestos claimant and their families, including their names, addresses, where they work, how much they make, some medical information, how much they received in compensation and the last four digits of their social security numbers. At the same time, as noted by an earlier New York Times editorial, the legislation does not ask the companies to do one thing to help the victims, or to disclose any information that could help a claimant with his or her case. The bill would also slow down or stop the process by which the asbestos trusts review and pay claims, so that many victims would die before receiving compensation. Does anyone really think transparency is the goal here?
When it comes to corporate cover-ups, not much has changed. Check out these stories, for example.
Yesterday, the huge government contractor KBR agreed to pay $130,000 to settle with the Securities and Exchange Commission for using employment agreements to muzzle whistleblowers, specifically requiring “witnesses in certain internal investigations interviews to sign confidentiality statements that could have kept them from reporting possible securities-law violations to authorities.” And the problem is not limited to KBR. The Wall Street Journal reported in February,
In recent weeks the agency has sent letters to a number of companies asking for years of nondisclosure agreements, employment contracts and other documents, according to people familiar with the matter and an agency letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The inquiries come as SEC officials have expressed concern about a possible corporate backlash against whistleblowers.
Some of these types of documents sometimes include clauses that impede employees from telling the government about wrongdoing at the company or other potential securities-law violations, according to lawyers who handle whistleblower cases and some members of Congress. In some cases, the firms require employees to agree to forgo any benefits from government probes, effectively removing the financial incentive for participating in the SEC program.
Or check out this story.
Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Asia’s largest drugmaker, has offered to pay more than $2.2 billion to settle claims that it hid the cancer risks associated with its Actos diabetes medicine.…
The sum could close out more than 8,000 lawsuits in federal and state courts that have been launched against Takeda and have lingered for three years. The deal would amount to about $275,000 for each case.
Takeda is accused of covering up signs that Actos can lead to bladder cancer.
Or how about the herbal supplement industry, which has been covering up the fact that its supplements contain lead, mercury, and arsenic instead of actual herbs. Now 14 state AG’s want Congress to investigate.
Corporate lawbreakers and their support systems might want to change their talking points. "Transparency - as long as we've already been caught by law enforcement."