Corporate policy-making

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:

On Tuesday, President-elect Bush completed the selection of a Cabinet with a rich diversity of backgrounds, races and views. The very next day, he held a conference that sent a different message: Invited to what was billed as a broad discussion of the national economy were three-dozen corporate executives, almost all of them white and male, who together had contributed $1.6 million to Mr. Bush or the Republican Party during the 2000 campaign. The burden of representing any views on the economy that might not be voiced by big business seemed to fall to one representative from the Consumer Federation of America. But it's hard to know if he said anything on behalf of consumers, or the workers employed by all those executives, since the meeting, unlike previous presidential economic summits, was closed to the press.

Mr. Bush seemed pleased after the session: "There is a unanimity here," he proclaimed. Sure enough, his corporate backers lined up to express support for Mr. Bush's plan for $1.3 trillion in tax cuts, the great bulk of which would benefit people like themselves. Thursday, another exclusive group flew in to give the new president more closed-door advice: executives this time from high-tech companies such as IBM, Intel and Sun Microsystems to add to what Mr. Bush had already heard from Kenneth Lay of the oil company Enron (more than $310,000 in contributions) or John M. Hennessy of Credit Suisse First Boston ($149,000). John T. Chambers of Cisco Systems, who kicked in $305,000 for Mr. Bush and the GOP, and Michael Dell of Dell Computer ($268,000) were invited to both meetings.

On the stump, Mr. Bush made much of President Clinton's White House invitations to campaign donors; but Mr. Clinton also invited a broad range of voices from both parties to his policy summits people such as Mr. Bush's Treasury Secretary-designate Paul O'Neill, for example. It would have been easy enough to find a broader range of opinions for this week's economic meetings; after all, Mr. Bush's own chief economic adviser, Lawrence B. Lindsay, is on record contradicting the message that a tax cut is a good remedy for an economic slowdown. This way, Mr. Bush risks conveying an impression that real policymaking will happen behind closed doors with the corporate executives who helped him and his party raise a record $300 million for the campaign.

If the president-elect really wants to achieve something with such meetings other than donor maintenance, his invitation list should avoid such uniformity and his goal surely should not be unanimity.

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