Recently there has been a lot of news regarding the cozy relationship between businesses and government. Home Depot, one of America’s largest home improvement centers, has been fined millions of dollars by the government for secretly lobbying the FDA to approve its popular lighting fixture. As we all know, government officials, regardless of what position they hold, are free to be influential in any way they choose. But who is influencing whom, and why are government and business so cozy together?
Public policy experts believe that although the Home Depot case may represent the tip of the iceberg, business influences the way government policies are formed and how they get implemented. According to Joseph Gerber of the American Council on Global Affairs, “the tendency of public policy to become hostage to corporate interests is nothing new. For over a century, powerful corporate groups have successfully influenced and even shaped the social policies that govern us.”
There are many examples of this influence. For example, just consider all the lobby groups in Washington D.C. and the endless hours of meetings and committees that pass without any real action. In most cases, these groups cannot make any changes to public policies without the help of large contributions from special interest groups. Think about it, there is hardly a bill that passes that does not have the support of some special interest group. Similarly, large corporations have tremendous political influence, not only because they have money to spend, but because they often have ties with influential members of Congress. As such, business groups play an important role in shaping federal, state, and local public policies.
But how does business interact with government relations? Businesses are certainly one of the biggest drivers of government policy changes, and this is especially true when it comes to issues such as health care. Business lobby groups, particularly those that represent employers, have been quite influential in pushing for costly health care reform. When health insurance companies are allowed to choose their own rates, those companies can squeeze out-of-control employers who don’t have the financial means to provide coverage to their workers. As a result, taxpayers suffer.
Home Depot is one company that can give you an idea of what happens when business and public policy have come together. Home Depot, one of the largest home improvement stores in the country, has recently been sued for paying illegal aliens under the table. The union that represents Home Depot’s workers, along with the United Steelworkers, took the store to court, claiming that Home Depot knowingly paid an illegal worker over two hundred thousand dollars. According to court documents, the employee had actually told the union that he would only work in the U.S. if given a six-month work visa. This isn’t the first time that a business may have influenced public policy; the Home Depot case is just an example of how business can have a hand in making decisions in the public sector.
Business and public policy don’t always mesh; sometimes they compete against one another. In a recent article in the New York Times, James Freeman, an attorney with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, argued that small businesses that hire non-English speaking workers should not be punished because they need foreign labor. Immigrants may also be given preferential treatment when it comes to health care benefits. In the case of Home Depot, the union and workers claimed that they were treated unfairly, because they couldn’t get HSA or health insurance. If this type of situation arises in your business, it’s important to have a lawyer look at your contract and make sure that no-one is getting a handout while you are paying for them.