Top Corporate Scandals of 2010

2010 was another banner year for corporate greed, corruption and irresponsibility. We take a look at 5 of the biggest scandals in the corporate world.

1. BP Oil Spill
Top Corporate Scandals of 2010

No other corporate scandal approaches the level of BP’s operational negligence and bungled clean-up response to their Macando Prospect oil spill. The sheer scope of the oil giant’s lies and misinformation in the months following the spill was truly sublime.

We still do not know the exact nature of the spill: if there is more than one rupture in the ocean floor; the amount of oil gathered into a seabed lake; and the long-term environmental implications. Why? Well, at nearly every turn BP has attempted to control and distort the information the public and government receives.

They’ve employed university scientists to claim the Gulf of Mexico’s sea currents have naturally helped disperse the oil, as well as attempted to dump the blame on their partners (Halliburton, Transocean) in order to limit their financial risk.

And despite the early projected clean-up estimates of $200 billion, it appears that BP is going to emerge from their disaster relatively unscathed. According to an Associated Press piece:

“BP will survive the worst oil spill in U.S. history for several key reasons: it has little debt; its global businesses are forecast to generate $26 billion next year in cash flow from operations; the environmental impact of the spill isn’t as bad as feared; and the government seems unlikely to ban BP from Gulf drilling. To bolster its finances, BP has cut its dividend, issued debt and sold more than $21 billion in assets.”

One can bet BP sure is happy they were awash in profits from oil speculation in the years before the disaster.

2. Bank of America Finances Sale of Blackwater Mercenary Army
Top Corporate Scandals of 2010

Proof that Bank of America has absolutely no concern for business ethics, the bank is financing what amounts to a mercenary death squad founded by a crusading religious extremist with ties to James Dobson’s Christian empire in the Colorado Springs.

In the midst of managing their negative publicity following their profits in both the mortgage-backed securities debacle and the foreclosure sweepstakes (throwing families out of their homes), Bank of America thought it was a good idea to partner with investors in selling Erik Prince’s defense contractor Xe (formerly Blackwater). It is simply stunning that people within the banking giant thought it might not be advisable to be seen profiting from the sale of an outfit of death merchants.

Profit knows no boundaries.

3. Corporate Blockade of WikiLeaks
Top Corporate Scandals of 2010

First it was Amazon and PostFinance, then PayPal, followed closely by Mastercard and Visa. A concerted effort of corporate banks and financial institutions operated as extensions of the state, both in America and abroad, in making it increasingly difficult for WikiLeaks to raise funds.

It would seem that these institutions put up the firewall in order to ensure profits and a healthy business environment relative to the state, but they were not ready for the unintended repercussion of transforming themselves into thought police for those who would crush free speech and information. Anonymous went after most of them in the first cyberwar, and many individuals have expressed their disgust with these corporations over the last month.

All of the above institutions must now be seen for what they are: symbolic violators of free speech and the free flow of information. Many within these organizations might, in fact, be sympathetic to WikiLeaks and their efforts, but those at the very top (including in-house public relations people) came out of this looking no better than garden-variety book burners.

They are, quite simply, the praetorian guard of state power.

4. Citizens United vs. FEC
Top Corporate Scandals of 2010

In another example that corporate America values their free speech above all others, the American public watched as the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United (a shell organization for banks and corporations), granting them anonymity whilst pumping ridiculous amounts of money into issue ads.

The ruling strikes down the work of Senators Russ Feingold and John McCain, allowing devious business interests (the worst of the bunch) to influence elections, shape public opinion and thereby gain access to the legislative and executive branches—where the real work begins.

This level of corruption always ends badly. Access is what they want, and access is what they get for the right price (look at the corporate donations to President Obama’s campaign and the lack of Wall Street punishment). And once they gain entry into a congressman or senator’s office, suddenly regulation is relaxed or eliminated, paving the way for global economic meltdowns like the mortgage-backed security crisis.

The Green Economy is their next objective. Watch for that bubble to burst in the near future.

5. Halliburton Pays Off Nigerian Government Over Dick Cheney Scandal
Top Corporate Scandals of 2010

Like Bank of America, it just never seems to end for Halliburton. Earlier this year they were defending themselves over the full-on assault leveled at them by BP, who claimed Halliburton did not report a failed cement test before the BP Oil Spill. This was proven not to be the case, as BP had conveniently ignored the failed cement test report. Nevertheless, it was another dose of bad press for the energy and defense contractor.

Then comes news that the company paid $250 million to the Nigerian government to avoid bribery charges against Dick Cheney and the company. According to a Halliburton press release, the company was accused (their words, not Nigeria’s) of:

“[I]mproper payments to government officials in Nigeria in connection with the construction and subsequent expansion by a joint venture known as TSKJ of a natural gas liquefaction project on Bonny Island, Nigeria, in which Halliburton’s former subsidiary KBR Inc. had an approximate 25 percent interest.”

In 2009, Halliburton and KBR pled guilty in a US court to paying $180 million in bribes when Cheney was CEO in order to secure the $6 billion natural gas project.  According to Bloomberg, Halliburton and KBR were fined a record $579 million by the U.S. government and KBR executive Albert ‘Jack’ Stanley is now serving a seven year prison term.

So it seems that Halliburton’s $250 million bribe payment is merely an instrument to shut the Nigerians up, allowing them to get back to business as usual (securing other sweetheart energy and defense contracts).

What to Expect in 2011?

Anything is possible as we have seen from a small sample of 2010’s corporate scandals. As Senator Al Franken noted in his recent Senate speech, the merger of NBC and ComCast is particularly troubling in light of the former’s monopolistic tendencies and their assault on Netflix.

With Citizens United vs. FEC having paved the way for corporate behemoths to gain even greater access to elected officials, expect more favorable legislation for corporations and banks and all of the bad shit that comes with it.