Of all the corporate big shots offering the rest of us stern lectures about the sacrifices we’re going to have to make, is there any more infuriating than Honeywell’s CEO’s, David Cote?
Cote, who was paid $20 million last year, has been a particularly outspoken member of President Obama’s deficit commission, with a special kind of shameless gall to be able, with a straight face, to warn the rest of us that we will have to get by with less retirement and health care if the country is going to deal with its deficit.
I’d like to propose a new rule: before the president hands somebody like Cote [pronounced Ko-tay] a billion-dollar megaphone, that person and his company should demonstrate that they are following generally accepted rules of good citizenship.
In the case of Honeywell, the company makes the rules it has to live by. And why shouldn’t it? One of the largest contractors to the federal contractors, it’s also one of the heaviest hitters when it comes to lobbying, spending $6.5 million last year. Among manufacturing firms, only General Electric spent more.
But when it comes to political contributions, Honeywell far outstrips GE, with $2.3 million spent in the 2009-2010 election cycle compared to GE’s $1.4 million.
And Honeywell doesn’t just rely on high-paid lobbyists, when the bailout faced a skeptical public in 2008, Cote (who sits on the board of J.P. Morgan Chase) wrote to his employees to suggest they get out and support the bailout.
But in every set of rules that the government sets related to Honeywell, those millions spent influencing the government turn out to be very solid investments.
For example, taxes. Cote’s Honeywell doesn’t pay any, according to the Citizens for Tax Justice.
It’s all perfectly legal in the rigged world of the U.S. tax code, where corporations like Honeywell use the political access that only money can buy to write the rules they have to live by.
How rigged is the U.S. tax code?
Well, for example, look at the plight of homeowners who lose their home to foreclosure. Even after those poor saps lose their homes, if the lender forgives some of the mortgage debt because the house sells for less than the homeowner owed, the IRS could still come after them.
I know, I know, those homeowners should have had the foresight to hire more lobbyists and increase their contributions to political campaigns.
Taxes are hardly the only place where Honeywell falls short on the standards of good citizenship.
Honeywell has major contracts in Iran, and despite U.S. sanctions against that country, the company has taken a somewhat relaxed view toward compliance, agreeing that it wouldn’t take on any new work in Iran while it closes out its current work.
Because you wouldn’t want sanctions to be too disruptive to Honeywell’s ability to make profits.
Back home in the U.S., Cotes’ Honeywell has been especially good at squeezing sacrifices from other people, like its workers and the communities who live near its facilities.
Dirt Diggers Digest has compiled a useful summary of Honeywell’s actions at the Illinois plant that is the sole facility in the country where uranium ore is converted into the uranium hexafluoride gas used in the production of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons, a risky process using highly toxic materials.
Last year workers at the plant balked when the company sought to eliminate retiree health benefits, reduce pensions for new hires, cap severance pay and contract out maintenance. So Honeywell locked them out and brought in replacement workers.
After an explosion at the plant, Honeywell was cited by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for improperly coaching replacement workers during investigations by federal inspectors, while the Environmental Protection Agency fined the company $11.8 million for illegally storing hazardous waste – only the latest in more than $650 million in fines for misconduct, according to the Project on Government Oversight.
But the federal contracts keep pouring in, because in Honeywell’s world, misconduct is just part of doing business, and doesn’t have real world consequences. And apparently that misconduct doesn’t give David Cote any qualms about telling the rest of us what we need to do.
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