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Bailout and Secrecy a Toxic Combination

Secrecy in government is a bad thing. Secrecy in corporations getting huge government bailout checks is just as bad, if not worse.

As we all know, Congress passed a $700 billion bailout bill this past fall, and the Treasury Department immediately doled out multi-billion-dollar “rescue” packages to huge banks and corporations like the Bank of America and AIG which told people things like they wouldn’t be able to loan anyone money without a rescue or that they were too big to fail. Thus far, there seems to be precious little to show for the money, as banks are apparently still reluctant to lend money. Cynics might say the banks just, in the words of Woody Allen, took the money and ran.

So the Associated Press contacted 21 banks which received at least $1 billion in government money and asked four questions: How much has been spent? What was it being spent on? How much is being held in savings? And what’s the plan for the rest?

AP’s request was met with what one might call radio silence. None of the banks provided specific answers, and most even refused to explain why they are keeping the information secret.

If the government had done this, there would have been hell to pay and people could agitate with their elected representatives or maybe vote them out of office. People could make Freedom of Information Act requests. But there’s no real way to hold corporations accountable: even shareholders have no real voice in corporate governance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is quoted as saying, “It is outrageous that those institutions cannot — or will not — provide information on how they are spending billions of taxpayer dollars.”

Congress should turn off the spigot of taxpayer dollars to corporations which won’t explain what they are doing with the money. Congress should probably turn off the spigot to these corporations period. The patriots who fought for our freedoms abhorred taxation without representation. We certainly aren’t being represented in the boardrooms of the corporations getting bailout money.

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