In a previous article for Greenpeace, cross-posted here, Charlie Cray explored the legacy of the infamous Powell Memo, the 1971 memorandum that soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell prepared for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which mapped out a strategy to aggressively fight criticism of and challenges to corporate America from the media, liberal activists and the burgeoning consumer and environmental movements. Charlie has now added more detailed analysis in four areas that Powell suggested corporations should focus: education, the Judiciary, the Media, and politics. As we can now clearly see, this corporate blueprint has, as Charlie explains, forever changed the influence of big business on our political and cultural landscape.
Greenpeace Analyzes The Lewis Powell Memo -- Corporate Blueprint To Dominate Democracy
By Charlie Cray, cross-posted from Greenpeace's website
Forty years ago, not only was Greenpeace formed, but a then-obscure
corporate lawyer (later appointed by President Nixon to the Supreme
Court) drafted a memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that
forever changed the influence of big business on our political and
As part of our investigation of the history and subsequent consequences of Lewis Powell’s Memorandum
for the Chamber, Greenpeace has compiled a series of references and
related analysis that trace specific corporate activities to the overall
strategy that Powell sketched out in his memo.
inter-related pages, we describe how the Chamber and other leading
members of Corporate America targeted specific public areas for
increased influence, if not outright takeover:
Politics – With particular focus on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lewis Powell
advocated that corporations take a much more aggressive and direct role
in politics. Since Powell’s day corporate lobbying expenditures and
donations to politicians have exploded in size and relative importance,
pulling elected officials away from various public interests towards the
enduring priorities of big business.
Judicial and Legal System
– Powell identified the judiciary as one of the most important arenas
for business activism. His suggestions led to the swift formation of
dozens of corporate-funded legal foundations, many of which succeeded in
using strategic litigation and distorted constitutional doctrines to
overturn regulations on public health and the environment. The U.S.
Chamber and its allies in particular have waged a multi-decade attack on
the rights of victims of corporate crime and abuse. Perhaps the most
infamous example of how corporate power has been advanced through the
strategies seeded by Powell is last year’s Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate contributions to influence elections.
Mass Media and Communications
– Lewis Powell encouraged corporations to leverage their ownership and
advertising power to influence mass media. Recent decades have seen
massive consolidation of mainstream media, resulting not only in the
decline of independent and investigative journalism, but a clear
pro-corporate news bias.
Schools and Education – One of the most important themes of the Powell Memo
was for corporate America to invest in a long-term effort to influence
educational curricula and reduce their most outspoken critics’ influence
on campus. Corporations have since used a variety of means to influence
university research and campus culture.
Greenpeace has dealt
increasingly with the growing corporate-oriented framework that was
created in part by the suggestions of Lewis Powell. A broad network of
corporate think tanks, trade associations and legal foundations that has
rapidly expanded since the 1970s is at the heart of the climate science denial movement, funded by the likes of Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
other examples exist of industries harnessing the power of their money
and public relations resources to trample scientific integrity and
environmental or public health protections. Chemical companies avoid responsibility for looming disasters and are even willing to spy on opponents in order to avoid accountability. Familiar tuna brands turn a blind eye to their role in destructive fishing practices. The nuclear industry continues to push for false solutions to climate change even as Japan continues to struggle with a nuclear disaster. Dirty U.S. coal companies threaten the health of residents in frontline communities and fuel global climate disruption. And global warming is further intensified by U.S. companies that drive deforestation operations around the world.
One wonders if corporations have already crossed a line in dominating
the key institutions so crucial to a robust democracy that even Lewis Powell would have been alarmed.
For more on the Powell Memo, check out our previous blog (Corporate Blueprint to Dominate Democracy) written on the 40th anniversary of its release, and be sure to read the Powell Memo yourself.