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British Petroleum Announces Cessation of All Political Donations

By greenrd in News
Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 11:11:47 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

Recently the Enron collapse in the US and the Mittal political donations scandal in the UK have pushed political donations into the limelight, and have added impetus to calls for tighter controls on corporate influence of political parties. In an unusual move, British Petroleum (also known as BP Amoco) announced yesterday that it will voluntarily cease all of its financial contributions to political parties with corporate money, the Independent newspaper reports. BP contributed about $1m to US political parties last year.

"Other companies, especially in the energy sector," can be expected to follow suit, the paper says.

Lord Browne, BP's group chief executive, justified the announcement by saying that BP had "no democratic legitimacy to determine how society will develop." This will be seen as a significant concession to critics such as Corporate Watch, who have long argued that corporations have a dangerous level of political influence which is only used to meet their own narrow interests, and is detrimental to the interests of everyone else (or, to put it another way, the interests of society as a whole). Of course, Browne may or may not believe what he says for the media - but the very fact that he is using an argument from "the opposition" is interesting.

It also casts Lord Browne in a more realistic light than the UK's ruling Labour Party, which claimed recently that corporate political donors "do not expect favours in return for cash". If this is the case, we are entitled to ask, what are the donations for? Corporations are chartered to make a profit - and unlike charitable contributions, corporate political contributions have little publication relations value.

Browne also claimed in his speech that political donations made no real difference to BP in the long term. This is a surprising claim, and stands at odds with the noble-sounding reason given previously.


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Should more companies follow BP's lead?
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British Petroleum Announces Cessation of All Political Donations | 34 comments (29 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Move in the rigut direction by the wrong entity. (4.28 / 7) (#6)
by Tezcatlipoca on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 09:34:13 AM EST

Although it is highly commendable that a big corporation takes this step (and perhaps all the good Karma BP is going to get for this was surely taken into account) self restraint hardly works.

If other competing companies continue donating money and BP perceives that they are getting a competitive advantage thanks to those donations, then BP will be back pandering to politicians faster than you can say "Blair and Bush are saints".

The only obvious path to make sure companies donations don't give them undeserved power is transparency and accountability and some legal regulation.

Since corporations give to any party with a realistic chance to be elected, why not make the practice compulsory, accountable and transparent (OK Mr $CEO, you gave money to $PARTY_IN_POWER, the law says now you have to give 50% of that to $PARTIES_IN_OPOSITION and we will put it here in this website and make it public).

And of course, why not ban it altogether?

Parties must be machineries to promote and implement ideas about good governance not a machine to promote power hungry people. An small machinery funded by interested individuals (with imposed limits) and perhaps some goverment subsidies (recognizing the importance of political parties in civic life)would be a more sensible approach IMNSVHO.

"At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look;
at forty-five they are caves in which we hide." F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The problem in the US is... (4.20 / 5) (#9)
by wiredog on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 10:18:59 AM EST

this nagging problem with "freedom of speech". (Makes it tough for government to do much about spam, too.) Since the courts have ruled that money (in the form of political contributions) is a form of speech, it's difficult to regulate. Bannig it is outright impossible.

Requiring equal contributions to all political parties would be tossed out by the courts in a heartbeat. For example, such a regulation could be construed to require Greenpeace to contribute to the George W. Bush re-election campaign if they contributed to any other presidential campaign.

Requiring openness on the part of contributors, and receipients of contributions, would work. Which is why it's never gonna happen.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]

Just pass a law (3.20 / 5) (#11)
by fhotg on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 10:58:03 AM EST

that says:

"he protection of freedom of speech is restricted to speech. Any rights regarding the transfer of money or goods as well any as rights to hit your neighbours kids on the head or poison dogs can not be derived from the freedom of speech."

[ Parent ]

The trouble with that (4.25 / 4) (#13)
by wiredog on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 11:20:21 AM EST

Under such a law, online stuff (like this place) wouldn't be speech.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
sure would (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by fhotg on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 05:04:42 PM EST

If you need to define speech better, tie it to "language" in any form.

And how including bribery in freedom of speech protects online expression escapes me.

[ Parent ]

It's actually not that difficult (4.00 / 1) (#29)
by UncleMikey on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 12:36:48 AM EST

Where one chooses to spend one's money is considered a form of expression through capitalism. If I donate money to you, it's the Constitutional equivalent to my standing up on a street corner and proclaiming support for your cause.
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]
Hmm (4.00 / 1) (#32)
by fhotg on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 03:24:17 AM EST

What is considered freedom of expression is sure a matter of interpretation that wants to be well balanced. What about having sex in the street to promote the idea of free love for example ? But I get your point. And thinking it over, preventing people from offering money is not a smart solution to the problem. Preventing politicians to accept it is the way to go.

I'd be happy to receive a sum from you to support my cause, btw.

[ Parent ]

Can't do that (4.33 / 3) (#14)
by UncleMikey on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 12:06:00 PM EST

The Supreme Court has already ruled that the Constitution intended all forms of expression -- including the spending of cash. No law can override that ruling -- at least, not for longer than it takes for a case before the Supreme Cout to overturn it again.

Any attempt at campaign finance reform in the United States is pretty much doomed, unless it passes as a Constitutional Amendment (virtually impossible). The Supreme Court is almost guaranteed to strike it down.
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]

I see (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by fhotg on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 05:21:55 PM EST

the problem. How is the supreme court formed again ? Presidents appoint judges for lifetime ? In order to get the law in line with the constitution again, you would first need a moral integer president, backed by a moral integer senate and some hmm ... lifespan adjusting measures for current supreme court members.

Tough luck.

[ Parent ]

Somethin' like that (4.50 / 2) (#28)
by UncleMikey on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 12:23:21 AM EST

Firstly, no flame, just a comment: English isn't your first language, is it? :-) I ask because while 'moral integer' probably seems like it means something, it doesn't. To a computer geek like me, I'm trying to figure out which whole number is more moral than any other (obviously, some are less moral, like 69 and [if you're Christian] 666)...

But I take your meaning to be 'a president with moral integrity', and etc. It's actually far more complicated than that.

First of all, to answer your question about the Supreme Court's makeup. America's judiciary is supposed to be (and by and large manages to be) independent of the other branches. In federal courts (District, Circuit, and Supreme), justices serve on a tenure which older times was called 'during good behaviour' -- meaning for life, as long as they don't do anything obviously reprehensible or illegal. They're appointed by the President, with advice and consent of the Senate. Congress has one other influence over the courts -- legislation defines how large each court is. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted to enact some measures that were Constitutionally dubious, he got Congress to expand the Supreme Court, and then packed it with justices who would vote in his favour when the measures (which today we remember as the New Deal) were challenged.

To amend the Constitution requires more than the collusion of president, Congress, and Court -- any old law can be passed that way. A constitutional amendment requires some sort of ratification from the nation as a whole. In earlier, less directly democratic days, this often translated to approval by a super-majority of state legislatures. These days, it would probably require a plebicite of some kind, on a state by state basis, with a super-majority of state plebicites voting in favour.

In practical terms, this puts the effort of amending the Constitution on the same level with the effort of electing a President -- actually, a greater effort, since a President only requires a simple plurality of electoral votes. The campaign, for and against, any amendment of any meaningful content would be expensive and distracting from other concerns.

America (to the degree that one can meaningfully speak of 'America' as a single corporate entity) tends to recognize that one of the reasons it works at all as a 'nation' is the careful balance struck by the Constitution. We therefore tend to be extraodrinarily reluctant to change it, and have made the process deliberately painful.
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]

And I hoped (4.00 / 1) (#31)
by fhotg on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 03:13:22 AM EST

"integer" would be the adjective for "integrity". Inventing words works astonishingly often for me.I strongly disagree with your notion that "69" is a less moral number, but that's an entirely different topic.

Thanks for enlightening me about the details of the american 'balance of power'. One question remains though. I understand that the constitution itself it practically unchangeable (a good thing IMHO, if you look at how other countries constitutions mutate over time). Now the original post referred to an interpretation of the first amendment in form of a supreme court decision. The politician - funding is sure not addressed in the Bill of Rights and it's hard to believe it could be exegetically (thats a word ?) extracted.

Supreme court decisions do not get constitutional status I hope. I suspect they could be overturned by a following supreme court decision. Is that possible ? I mean getting a case there, a precedent of which has been already decided earlier ? If yes, did it happen ? If not's not possible, then a supreme court decision is absolutely unchangeable ?

[ Parent ]

Supreme Court decisions are mutable, yes (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by UncleMikey on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 10:59:16 AM EST

Just as the act of one legislative session cannot permanently prevent a future legislative session from repealing it, the Supreme Court can reverse itself from case to case. This is one example, however, where it's been pretty consistent for a while now.

Politictian-funding isn't discussed in the Bill of Rights in large part because the framers still retained a somewhat idealistic view of how the republic would be governed, or more accurately, by whom. While they did not set out any property qualification for office or for the franchise, it was their belief that The People(tm) would naturally tend to elect those individuals whose circumstances (land, wealth, etc) made them independent and thus, disinterested. The idea was that since a 'republic' is a government in the public interest, the people would naturally vote for those who could most easily govern in a 'public mode' without worrying about their own private concerns.

In truth this is possibly the single largest failure of fore-sight the Founding Fathers and framers of the Constitution had, this idealistic belief that a virtuous populace would elect virtuous, disinterested men. They believed in aristocracy, but in aristocracy of talent rather than bloodline, and believed the people felt the same way. They were proven badly wrong. In very short order, government became the playground of a host of private interests, money began changing hands to support candidates, and political parties began to form.

When Washington and Adams took office as the first President and Vice President under the new Constitution, there were no formal political parties, and a sincere hope that there never would be. By the time Washington retired, the Federalist and Republican[*] parties had formed, and the two party balance became the norm.

[*] The early Republican party bears no relationship to the modern Republican party. The modern GOP was founded in the mid 1800s.
[ Uncle Mikey | Radio Free Tomorrow ]
[ Parent ]

Pass a law (2.75 / 4) (#16)
by PresJPolk on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 01:00:38 PM EST

If you could pass a law to override the constitution, the constitution wouldn't be worth anything.

If a law could narrow tht first amendment, then the CDA would still be in effect.

[ Parent ]
British Petroleum?? (3.11 / 9) (#7)
by wji on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 09:43:20 AM EST

Hell-O! They're "Beyond Petroleum" now, and they care about the environment. You can tell, because they have a green flower-like logo. Geez, get your facts straight.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
I thought it stood for (3.60 / 5) (#8)
by Gully Foyle on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 09:58:08 AM EST

Beyond Parody.

Oh well, be about your business...

If you weren't picked on in school you were doing something wrong - kableh
[ Parent ]

Bunnies & Puppies (4.00 / 3) (#15)
by lucidvein on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 12:20:52 PM EST

I'm so glad they're marketing department decided to change the name to something more politically correct.

For their next name change how about Bunnies & Puppies. The warm fuzzy company that respects the environment and all its citizens.

[ Parent ]

I always thought (5.00 / 1) (#24)
by decaf_dude on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 06:10:42 PM EST

BP stands for Butt Plug.


[ Parent ]
My Chomsky quote is better than yours! [nt] (none / 0) (#33)
by wji on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 09:45:33 AM EST

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]
I guess... (3.50 / 6) (#10)
by special ed on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 10:47:14 AM EST

BP will just have to rely on its offshore subsidiaries to make its political "donations" for it.

As for "Other companies, especially in the energy sector," following suit....I'll believe it when I see it.

Meanwhile, the world turns foolishly on and ants tickle his butt.
Hear hear (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by Lagged2Death on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 01:55:17 PM EST

I am also cyncial about this announcement. It's not hard to make a stab at more likely scenarios:

1) BP brass defines "political donations with corporate money" so narrowly that it's a trivial paper-shuffling excercise to continue with business as usual, while reaping positive free publicity from the announcement.

2) BP resorts to work-arounds like you mention; subsidiaries or puppet non-profit satellite organizations make the donations on BP's behalf.

3) BP really does stop political donations - for a little while, until a competitor uses campaign donations to help pass new regulations favorable to them and unfavorable to BP. They can then blame the system for forcing them into making donations again, and they'd sort of be right.

4) BP comes up with some really innovative new way to buy politicians. (Maybe instead of merely sponsoring a media blitz on a candidate's behalf, BP will use all those new video-capable gas pumps to show political ads directly.) Maybe BP brass is afraid the soft-money scheme is going to finally be regulated away, and they want to be early adopters of whatever new scheme comes along to replace it.

5) Perhaps the political climate in Britain and the US is already so pro-biz, pro-oil, and pro-rape-the-earth-for-all-it's-worth, that there's just no need for BP to make campaign contributions - for now.

There are lots and lots more, I'm sure, all more likely than BP really going cold-turkey on politcal influence. Big companies can afford to hire a squads of weasels to do nothing but think up stuff like this. And large companies didn't evolve into government-bribery machines by accident; they do it because it's good business. For the CEO of such a big, prominent company to walk away from a tool like that is literally incredible.

Starfish automatically creates colorful abstract art for your PC desktop!
[ Parent ]

Making things more difficult.... (4.50 / 8) (#12)
by bankind on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 11:15:04 AM EST

I know I'll be standing alone on this one, but do we really want politics to be influenced by other means than through the very monitored form of corporate donations? Even if a corporation swears to not give party contributions, no one in that corporation is obligated to follow suit.

So rather than singular flows of registered funding (at least "supposed" to be registered), we would have various diffused means through which a corporation can influence politics. Individual board members, or worse those contagious social diseases known as subsidiaries, will still have the same influence, but monitoring will be very, very difficult.

At least in the current system, I can say, "Hey, Puma sneakers were the official athletic footwear of the German National Socialist Party;" or "Jesse Helms is a neckless, cancer merchant," or whatever political-corporate tie you wish to make.

I'm not saying the current system is flawless. But rather than revolution, it needs a good scrubbing. What we need is more transparency. From transparency we can make any voting or purchasing decision our own politics desire. BP's move is PR crap. They'll still be in the game, but now we'll no even less about it.

"Insurgents are blowing up pipelines and police stations, geysers of sewage are erupting from the streets, and the electricity is off most of the time -- but we've given Iraq the gift of supply-side economics." -Krugman

Why... (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by beergut on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 01:28:18 PM EST

... would you want to control the private donations of individuals who might be employed by, or affiliated with, a given corporation?

I can see removing the ability of corporations to donate to political campaigns, parties, PACs, and the like. I can even see a point in someone saying that it is improper for a company to run political advertisements. Corporations are convenient legal fallacies, but should not have the same rights to speech, especially political speech (since the resources are so much greater,) as a citizen.

Curtailing the speech of individuals, even those affiliated with a corporation, is simply wrong.

i don't see any nanorobots or jet engines or laser holography or orbiting death satellites.
i just see some orangutan throwing code-feces at a computer screen.

-- indubitable
[ Parent ]

Simple... (none / 0) (#20)
by nstenz on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 03:28:36 PM EST

An individual could get a nice healthy 'bonus' and decide to donate it to 'his' favorite political candidate or party. Making such a thing illegal would be pointless, because it would be fairly hard to prove that said individual was working on behalf of the company.

This could backfire by a few people simply saying 'screw you' to the corporation and keeping the money- but how many years does it take to find one whistle blower at a corrupt corporation?

[ Parent ]

Unfortunately... (none / 0) (#21)
by beergut on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 04:15:25 PM EST

You simply cannot legislate against stupidity. This is more or less a slippery-slope argument.

Yes, there is a possibility of corruption and the sort of behavior you're describing.

Given that, it might be reasonable, though distasteful, to limit individual contributions to a few thousand dollars. But now we're on the slippery slope.


i don't see any nanorobots or jet engines or laser holography or orbiting death satellites.
i just see some orangutan throwing code-feces at a computer screen.

-- indubitable
[ Parent ]

You just can't win. (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by nstenz on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 07:21:44 PM EST

Slippery slope, indeed. I like the idea of individual limits on donations, but again, what's to stop a corporation from spreading the money around to lots of individuals?

I see no easy solution to this problem, either.

[ Parent ]

Well... (2.50 / 2) (#26)
by beergut on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 07:34:46 PM EST

If a corporation spread around a "bonus" to each person, given an instruction to "donate this money to the Democrat party", that would have to be illegal.

One cannot coerce speech legally.

An employee who gets such a "bonus", even with the understanding that this money is to be donated to a political party, would have quite a solid legal footing for simply keeping the money. It's a "bonus", and therefore "salary", and therefore "taxable", and therefore "keepable."

I suspect that corporations and bigwigs therein know this, and find that it is untenable to simply hand out bonus money to people in this way. Besides, the more people you give these "bonuses" with the understanding that they are to be donated, the more likely you'll find someone willing to blow the whistle on these shady practices. The more you spread corruption, the more likely you'll find someone who cannot be corrupted.

i don't see any nanorobots or jet engines or laser holography or orbiting death satellites.
i just see some orangutan throwing code-feces at a computer screen.

-- indubitable
[ Parent ]

By this point... (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by nstenz on Fri Mar 01, 2002 at 12:37:24 AM EST

...they'd already be breaking the law, because we're speaking of corporations not being allowed to donate any money at all to political ends. So yes, it would be illegal anyhow.

You are correct about a larger group of people being more likely to tell their employer where to shove the money...
...in their pockets.

[ Parent ]

But. (5.00 / 2) (#27)
by Lagged2Death on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 09:34:19 PM EST

So rather than singular flows of registered funding (at least "supposed" to be registered), we would have various diffused means through which a corporation can influence politics. Individual board members, or worse those contagious social diseases known as subsidiaries, will still have the same influence, but monitoring will be very, very difficult.

I see your point, and I think it's definitely worth pointing out that there are many ways for a company to force it's legal agenda down the voter's throats. There may be no simple answer.

But isn't monitoring already very, very difficult? If Senator Bitchtits and Fubar Inc. decide to do a deal and keep it quiet, they may choose from all the methods you mentioned, plus a score you (and I) have never dreamed of. For all we know, some of the recorded soft-money transactions are just diversionary tactics to keep the real goals hidden.

OK, now I'm starting to sound like some raving conspiracy nutjob, and I'm not, really. Not yet. My point is simply that the most questionable, most devious, most important-for-the-citizens-to-hear-about deals are probably already hidden from easy view; putting the kibosh on the soft-money process won't change that.

Starfish automatically creates colorful abstract art for your PC desktop!
[ Parent ]

Transcript of speech (3.50 / 2) (#19)
by ToastyKen on Thu Feb 28, 2002 at 03:19:12 PM EST

I couldn't get the Independent link to work, so I went off looking for a source, and I found the transcript of the speech.

British Petroleum Announces Cessation of All Political Donations | 34 comments (29 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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