Corporate and Government Malevolence
This essay was written in response to a Boing Boing blurb by Cory Doctorow in which he shares: Wells Fargo blackballed employees who refused to commit fraud, forcing them out of the industry forever.
Earlier this month, Planet Money aired an interview with a Wells Fargo whistle-blower who was fired for trying to alert the bank to the millions of criminal frauds being committed against its customers, and we learned that the whistle-blower had been added to a confidential blacklist used by the finance industry, preventing her from ever getting work in the industry again.
This week’s Planet Money (MP3) airs an interview with another Wells Fargo whistle-blower who resigned when the bank made him recant his complaints to upper management, and then put pressure on him to engage in the same frauds as his colleagues. This whistle-blower, too, was unable to get work at any other bank, and it wasn’t until a sympathetic hiring manager at a rival bank told him confidentially that he had been blacklisted that he found out why.
The rest of the article, and I recommend that you read it/listen to it, goes on in great detail how a list called U5 becomes a means of blackballing employees who reveal corporate malfeasance in the finance industry: Episode 732: Bad Form, Wells Fargo (17 mins, 10 seconds) [Planet Money]
The Answer-Man Weighs in on Whistle-blowing
Am I surprised to hear Wells Fargo would blackball its employees from the industry for revealing corporate efforts to commit fraud? Absolutely not. It is a corporate tradition which spans the century. Ever since corporations has grown to the point they have become their own financial ecosystems, they have pretty much been immune to all forms of prosecution.
They mitigate it by maintaining lobbyists in the halls of government. The lobbying of powerful corporate interests have made it very difficult to hold corporations accountable for anything by keeping lawmakers in their debt through campaign donations and other forms of soft-core bribery through lobbying efforts. The amount of money organizations spend can be staggering.
Big Pharma (the Pharmaceutical/Health Products lobbying industry), for instance, has spent $3.5 billion lobbying from 1998–2016 (OpenSecrets.org). Three billion dollars can buy a lot of goodwill, head turning and “legislation and policy crafting support” through affiliated think-tanks and policy houses in cooperation with such pharmaceutical companies.
Most large corporations and industries also maintain large legal firms to help them navigate lawsuits levied by other industry players, lawsuits from consumers or competitors. Keeping a list like Wells Fargo has been accused of: the U5, would not be a surprise to anyone who has worked for any time in corporate America.
Corporations have long memories and if you aren’t willing to toe the line, or worse, decide you want to report them for activities generally known but unspoken in public, they can and often assuredly mark you, making it impossible for you to work in large industries where the players all know each other and have been known to collaborate, even when they might appear as competitors to the general public.
Whistle-blower laws are supposed to protect people who turn evidence against corporate malfeasance or alleged criminality but in recent years, whistle-blowers are often punished more than the people they blow the whistle on because the corporations, using their legal clout and financial capacities, settle out of court denying any wrong-doing. The whistle-blower on the other hand loses their livelihood, their option to work in their industry unless a player chooses to overlook their transgression.
Lobbyists are also doing their part to weaken whistle-blowing protections built into regulatory statutes like Dodd-Frank, which could have prevented the Economic Collapse of 2008–2009.
New Bill to Weaken Protections, Incentives for Whistleblowers Sneaks Through Committee
Thanks to a lobbying effort from the US Chamber of Commerce, New York Rep. Michael Grimm's attempt to eviscerate hard…
Thanks to a lobbying effort from the US Chamber of Commerce, New York Rep. Michael Grimm’s attempt to eviscerate hard-fought whistleblower reforms included in the Dodd-Frank Act is gaining steam. This news should be seriously troubling to anyone hoping to stop wrongdoing on Wall Street — the kind that led to the 2008 financial meltdown.
Grimm introduced the Whistleblower Improvement Act of 2011 (H.R. 2483) in July, but despite its deceptive name, this bill does absolutely nothing to improve whistleblower protections. It’s easy to confuse Grimm’s bill with the separate Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which deserves full Congressional support. Grimm’s bill, in contrast, guts the whistleblower provisions included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation and puts whistleblowers at grave risk.
These provisions are in the Dodd-Frank Act for a reason: Congress recognized that whistleblowers play a crucial role in exposing corporate wrongdoing, but may not come forward because they fear retaliation and have no incentive.
Big corporations aren’t the only offenders either. Big Government has been know to be particularly vindictive to whistle-blowers who reveal how much money is often spent on government projects dubbed “pork”, failures in processes which violate civil rights or in the case of the NSA the privacy rights of American citizens. Everyone knows who Edward Snowden was, but before Snowden there were other whistle-blowers to tried to go through channels and they were far less successful for their efforts.
The first is Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on the very same NSA activities 10 years before Snowden did. Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistle-blower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.
Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance program were largely ignored.
In the modern era with all of the talk of transparency in government and big business, the price of revealing something which should be in the public eye but not, can be very high. You can find yourself going to jail, losing your livelihood, and unable to find work in your field of expertise, possibly for the rest of your life. Not to mention how many whistle-blowers happen to die in accidents, suicides or other such unfortunate and sometimes mysterious circumstances. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can assuredly rent retribution at an unofficial level, of course.
Such responses as the U5 or the draconian alpha-strike of the Pentagon on whistle-blowers chills the enthusiasm of anyone to take what shouldn’t be a risk at all. Reporting wrong-doing, fraud, theft, malfeasance of any kind, particularly when it puts people’s economic welfare, their health, their privacy or even their lives should be a high enough priority that a whistle-blowers efforts should be recognized as a highly desired public good.
Unfortunately, like so many things associated with wealth, it is still possible in a country with laws and comparatively speaking, a low level of corruption compared to places in the developing world, to still find the legal system significantly powerful to protect people clearly involved in what should be construed as criminal activity.
Corporations and their executives use their wealth as a shield allowing them to go unpunished, their activities unrecognized and the issue revealed may be corrected by no one will be held accountable. As with so many things, the only the person shedding the light, will end up paying the price for their urge to help their fellow man.
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The Answer-Man’s Archives are a collection of my articles discussing superheroes and their powers in relationship to their respective universes. Occasionally, we talk about real world topics such as science, technology or economics. You can find other Archives on Quora and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange or at The World According to Superheroes.
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon.