Connection Between Rigged Trade & Rigged Government

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Above: Protesters standing outside of Bisto Bis where Ron Wyden was supposed to hold a fundraiser.

Secret’s Galore! A week with Wyden includes a secret fundraiser with those who will profit from a secretly negotiated corporate agreement while Wyden is holding secret meetings with a Republican to help pass fast track — Wyden Says He Believes in Transparency

Participating in US politics, as a citizen activist, puts you face-to-face with corruption and the ugliness of money-politics.

At least I find it ugly that a senator would be negotiating fast track legislation through Congress for secret corporate rigged trade deals while raising money from big business interests that would profit immensely from those deals. Taking money while negotiating legislation that benefits the donor should be illegal. It should be considered bribery or a pay-off, but the deep corruption of US politics has legalized that kind of bribery and made it the norm.

While this was occurring Wikileaks published the text of the Investment Chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This chapter allows corporations to sue governments in a tribunal that supersedes the  US judicial system when a law passed in the public interest would undermine their profits. Corporations can sue for the profits they were expecting to make in rigged trade tribunals where corporate lawyers play the role of judges and there is no right to appeal or take the case to another court for review. Even the US Supreme Court cannot overrule the corporate judges.

Above: Flood Congress which ended at Ron Wyden’s office.

A Week With Wyden

That is what we saw this week as we focused our attention on Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Wyden is the key Democrat on the Finance Committee. If he co-sponsors fast track with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) then it will be harder to stop these crony capitalist rigged agreements. We’ll see if the bribes he received on Wednesday from DC’s big business lobbyists at his bribe-fest, err fundraiser, was enough for him to ignore what the people of Oregon have said they clearly oppose.

Polling shows that 73 percent of Oregonians oppose fast track and 63 percent oppose the TPP. Half of the voters in Oregon said they would be less likely to support Wyden if he works with Republicans to pass fast track. You would think in a representative democracy the elected official who represents that constituency would say ‘no’ to fast track rather than negotiate in secret with a Republican leader on how to get fast track through the Congress.

But, Senator Wyden is not listening to what the people of Oregon want. Maybe he has been in Washington, DC too long or maybe he is more comfortable in his $10 million home in New York City. Or, maybe it is just that he gets so much money in donations from big business interests that he represents them instead of the people.

Wyden meme career is toast

From meeting with Wyden’s staff, it is clear that the senator thinks the public is too dumb to vote against him because of this issue. They think trade doesn’t matter to voters. But Wyden underestimates voters. In fact, because we now have the NAFTA experience, people understand how trade impacts their lives. And the TPP is much bigger than NAFTA.  We know the results: lost jobs, lower incomes, a bigger wealth divide, higher trade deficits, undermining the environment and increased migration. People now know trade agreements have created terrible consequences for their lives.

We sat-in Wyden’s office for a week doing a “toast-in” to make the point that Wyden’s career is toast if he co-sponsors fast track. Democratic Party aligned groups are saying they will remove Wyden from office in 2016 if he supports fast track.  The Hill reported how multiple groups are planning to oust him.  It started with Howard Dean’s Democracy For America when they saw the poll results showing how out-of-step Wyden is with Oregon voters and they urged a primary challenge. The call was then taken up by the Working Families Party in Oregon. And, just this week MoveOn members in Oregon voted with 79 percent saying they would support a primary challenger against Wyden. MoveOn has 88,000 members in Oregon. The AFL-CIO is withholding PAC contributions, not just to Wyden but to all members of Congress, and is running advertisements in Oregon criticizing fast track.

Balanced against the views of Oregon voters is the money donated to him by big business. As the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, a lot of big business money comes his way and passing fast track for the TPP and other agreements rigged for transnational corporations is a top priority.  Only 3 percent of Wyden’s personal contributions come from small donations, the rest come from large donations and PACs.

Open Secrets reports that over the past five years many of Wyden’s industry donations come from big business interests who will benefit from the rigged corporate trade agreements that fast track would help to pass. This includes private investment firms ($824,460 in Wyden donations), the insurance industry ($379,950), pharmaceuticals and health products ($356,278), manufacturing and distribution ($203,720), business services  ($165,050), finance ($147,815), oil and gas ($129,414) and chemical and related manufacturing ($101,850).  That is more than $2 million – do those donations speak louder than voters?

This week Congressional Quarterly reported that Senator Wyden was holding a fundraiser at Bistro Bis, an upscale restaurant near Capitol Hill.  The invitation said “Friends of all industries are welcome to attend.” The day before the event, we called for a protest outside the event in order to highlight that Wyden was fundraising for industries that would profit from fast track. After our call for a protest, he moved the fundraiser to a still undisclosed location. It was interesting to see how quickly he moved to hide his actions at the big bribe-fest. He’s being tight-lipped not only about where it was held but who attended and how much money was raised. What’s he hiding?

It is common for politicians who are considering legislation that would benefit an industry or corporate interest to hold a fundraiser while doing so. What better time to stick people up for money than when you are holding the key to future profits? This is so common that it is the norm in Washington, DC. Of course, that does not make it right; indeed what it shows is that the norm in US politics is deep corruption, and Wyden exemplifies it.

Above: Where’s Wyden: The Case of the Fast Track Bribe

TPP Secret Exposed

Wikileaks just published one of the most important secret sections of the TPP.  Senator Wyden has been calling for transparency, but I don’t think this level of transparency is what he has in mind. If it was, he would insist the text of the full agreement be made public before fast track is considered. He has not done this because he knows that if members of Congress and the people knew what was in this agreement, fast track would not even be considered; indeed the TPP would never become law. The only way for these rigged corporate trade agreements to become law is secrecy and speed, the latter so there is no time to even read them.

Secrecy is such a high priority that Wikileaks emphasized in its press release:

“The document is classified and supposed to be kept secret for four years after the entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement is reached, for four years from the close of the negotiations.”

Imagine that, secret law multiplied. It is bad enough to negotiate a law in secret and pass it through Congress with no hearings but then to keep the law secret until four years after it becomes law. Imagine that, laws that will impact every aspect of our lives kept this secret.  This sounds like a dystopian science fiction novel. Would anyone think that a country that passed laws with such secrecy was a democracy? A novel about a government like this would not be about a democracy – it would be about a dictatorship of corporations where the people are serfs to corporate power.

Ilana  Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program,  said : “It is outrageous that we have to continue to rely on leaked texts to expose the details of this trade pact — and that every leak confirms the threats of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to clean air and water.”

What does the text show? Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa writes “corporations could sue the U.S. or other countries included in the deal if they didn’t like their laws. Such challenges would be handled by an unaccountable international arbitration forum. And taxpayers would end up paying the tab if the private sector wins.”

“With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that would undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America describes the chapter as “worse than we imagined” and says: “These 56 pages must be a wakeup call for our nation.  We must be defenders of democracy first and push aside the special interests of multinational corporations.”

Food and Water Watch, which opposes fast track and the TPP because of its threat to food and water, summarized the leak saying it will prevent “commonsense public health, environmental and consumer safeguards” by providing “special rights for corporations at the expense of the public interest, letting foreign companies demand financial compensation”

Under the TPP only foreign corporations can sue governments (domestic corporations do not share in that power), while people have no recourse. If dangerous food is imported and people are poisoned, they cannot sue in the tribunal; if fracking or a burst pipeline destroys the water supply of a community, they cannot sue; if workers lose their jobs to low-paid foreign workers, the workers have no recourse; if websites are forced off the Internet because of violation of extremist copyright provisions, they cannot sue.  On issue after issue, people will be harmed by the provisions of rigged corporate agreements but they will have no recourse, while corporations can sue thereby ensuring increased risks to all of us.

How can Senator Wyden say with a straight face that he supports transparency when he would consider co-sponsoring to fast track bill a secret agreement; a fast track bill that would not even give people enough time to read the multi-thousand page agreement?

Above: Protest outside of Ron Wyden’s New York City home located in one of the most expensive areas of the city.

The Moment

Now is the key moment to tell Senator Wyden that you oppose fast track. His number in DC is (202) 224-5244. You can find numbers to his six Oregon offices and submit a written comment here.  If you want to take more action visit The people have the power to defeat transnational corporations on these issues but we must take action in order to do so.

Senator Wyden and Senator Hatch hope to finish their negotiations this week and introduce a bill in mid-April. They actually wanted to do so in mid-February but have been stopped. We can stop them again, if we act now. But, no matter what Wyden does, we can defeat fast track. Momentum is on the side of the people, as are the facts.  Fast track is not a done deal. The coalition to stop fast track is the largest ever built to oppose corporate trade. We represent tens of millions of people. We can win.

Kevin Zeese is co-director of Popular Resistance.

  • terremoto415

    What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it Brick? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room? There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity. You can smell it. It smells like death.
    — Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

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  • Great commercials, great signs, great slogans!

    Don’t Wyden the income gap!
    Where’s Wyden?

    Love it!

    Fast track is not a done deal.
    The coalition to stop fast track is the largest ever built to oppose
    corporate trade. We represent tens of millions of people. We can win.

    I know we will win.

    Maybe he has been in Washington, DC too long or maybe he is more
    comfortable in his $10 million home in New York City. Or, maybe it is
    just that he gets so much money in donations from big business interests
    that he represents them instead of the people.

    Wyden is a one-percenter himself. So whether he’s working for big business or himself, he does better when the stock market goes up or when these hideous trade deals are passed.

    Even the US Supreme Court cannot overrule the corporate judges.

    I think it wouldn’t be too hard to shame the SC into proclaiming that any court that supersede the USSC is illegal, null and void. Then push for a constitutional amendment to have federal judges not nominated by the president and appointed by congress. Maybe judges should be chosen by the nation’s body of lawyers? Not sure but if the SC is supposed to be a check and balance on the other two branches then its judges can’t be selected from them. It’s just common sense and shouldn’t be hard to rally the public around this point.

  • Lori Valencia

    I say we primary him anyway and send a message that this type of thing will not be tolerated, period!

  • Jon

    If Wyden thinks he is immune, he ought to talk with former Hawai’i governor (and former US. Rep.) Neil Abercrombie, who lost his re-election bid last Nov. by a large number to an virtual unknown in the Dem primary! This was absolutely unprecedented in Hawaiian history!
    He lost touch and had been supporting the huge agribusineses like Monsanto and Snygenta whose blatant contamination of former sugar and pineapple fields with their odious practices have literally been sending residents to hospitals and needing to evacuate schools for the health of students and teachers.

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  • Matthew Godson

    If he had a secret fundraising dinner it makes the TPP void.

    No. IV.7.2 – Invalidity of contract due to bribery

    (a) Contracts based on or involving the payment or transfer of bribes
    (“corruption money”, “secret commissions”, “pots-de-vin”, “kickbacks”)
    are void.

    (b) Any intentional offer, promise or transfer of any
    undue pecuniary or other advantage, whether directly or through
    intermediaries, to a foreign public official or person who directs or
    works, in any capacity, for a private sector entity, for the benefit of
    that official or private party or for a third party, in order that the
    official or private party acts or refrains from acting in relation to
    the performance of his official or other duties, in order to obtain or
    retain business or other improper advantages in the conduct of
    international business constitutes bribery.
    CommentaryReferencesContract ClausesDiscussion

    1 The prohibition of bribery is derived from Principle IV.7.1. Bribery
    as defined in subsection (b) means any intentional offer, promise or
    transfer of money or of other advantages such as goods, property,
    privileges, objects of value, shares/stock options, promotion,
    sponsorship, donations etc. to a public official or the employee of a
    private party or for the benefit of a third party with the expectation
    that this official or employee favours the offering party or its
    principal, e.g. with respect to the awarding of a contract.

    Subsection (a) makes it clear that the Principle applies both to
    contracts which have as their subject matter the payment or transfer of
    bribes (see infra para. 5) and to contracts which, even though their
    subject matter does not involve the payment or transfer of bribes, were
    concluded because of bribery.

    3 In view of the detrimental effect
    of bribery to companies and national economies, this rule applies
    irrespective of the fact that corruption was and still is endemic in
    many countries. Like the prohibition of racial discrimination, child
    labour, money laundering, anti-competitive practices, terrorism or drug
    trafficking, the prohibition of bribery belongs to those fundamental
    values of morality and justice which are widely recognized by civilized
    nations around the globe. The Principle is therefore part of
    transnational public policy. The values and standards of transnational
    public policy reflect a minimum standard of conduct and behaviour in
    international commercial relations. The fact that the prohibition of
    bribery belongs to these fundamental values is reflected by the
    increasing criminalization of bribery and the increasing number of
    anti-bribery laws and international anti-bribery recommendations and
    conventions. As a result of this dual significance of the prohibition of
    bribery, a violation of this rule not only leads to the invalidation of
    a contract which is based on or involves the payment or transfer of
    bribes. Arbitral awards involving such contracts can be set aside and
    their enforcement can be refused based on the public policy defence
    contained in, e.g. Art. 34 (2) (b) (ii) UNCITRAL Model Law on
    International Commercial Arbitration of 1986 and Art. V (2) (b) New York
    Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral
    Awards of 1958. Also, because of its very strong public policy nature,
    arbitral tribunals which are faced with an issue of bribery must examine
    this issue ex officio, even if it is not argued by either side.

    In arbitration proceedings where a case of corruption is alleged, the
    crucial issue typically is whether corruption has been demonstrated and
    proven by the party who is alleging it. Usually, direct evidence of
    corruption, such as contemporaneous documents or witness testimony, is
    available only in rare cases. Because arbitral tribunals are devoid of
    any power to compel third party witnesses or to open a criminal
    investigation, they must rely on circumstantial evidence in order to
    decide whether a case of corruption has occurred. Such circumstantial
    evidence may include the nature of the contractual obligation to be
    performed by the party that claims the payment of the money, the amount
    of the fee agreed upon by the parties and its relation to the value of
    the performance owed by the other party, the way in which this fee is to
    be calculated (lump sum or percentage fee), the payment terms (cash
    payments, payments to unrelated third parties) or the fact that the
    party claiming the money refuses to disclose information about its
    nature, organizational or personal structure. Sometimes payments under
    the contract are to be made to payment agents which are not identical
    with the receiving party or banks in off-shore jurisdictions which are
    known to have no or only very weak financial supervisory or legal
    enforcement authorities or the involvement of foundations of a
    non-commercial nature as payment-agents for the party which is to
    receive the money under the contract. Such factors may be taken into
    account by the arbitral tribunal in determining whether a contract is
    based on or involves the payment or transfer of bribes.

    Often, the payment of bribes is disguised by the conclusion of a
    “consultancy” or “agency” agreement which contains the obligation of one
    party to pay a sum of money (“commission”) for the performance of
    certain consultancy services by the other side. Such contracts are
    concluded, e.g. in the area of public procurement. In some cases, such
    agreements do not contain specific contractual obligations for the party
    which is to receive payment under the contract by the other party, but
    rather very vague “best efforts” undertakings. In such a case, a claim
    for payment based on the contract fails if the party claiming the
    payment is not in a position to prove the performance of the contract
    (i.e. his activities owed to the other side) as a contractual
    prerequisite for the payment. In such a case, the arbitral tribunal can
    dismiss the claim without having to rule on the invalidity of the
    contract under the present Principle. If the arbitral tribunal decides
    to rule on the invalidity of the contract, the vagueness of the
    contractual obligations of the party which is claiming the money under
    the contract is another factor (see supra para. 4) to be taken into
    account by the tribunal.