General Motors has given $90,500 to candidates in the current election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Hmm? Last time I looked, you and I and every other U.S. taxpayer owned a majority of GM. That means some of the money we're earning as GM owners is being used to influence how we vote in the upcoming mid-term election.
To put it another way, we taxpayers are paying some people (GM executives) to tell us how we should vote for another group of people (House and Senate candidates) who will decide how our taxes will be used in the future.
GM spokesman Greg Martin justifies the expenditure as a competitive necessity. "We're not going to sit on the sidelines as our competitors and other industries who have PACs are participating in the political process," he told the Wall Street Journal.
In other words, now that we taxpayers own GM, it's in our interest that GM use our money to affect how we vote, lest we mistakenly decide to support candidates who, once in office, enact legislation that helps GM's competitors and not GM.
Wait a moment. I smell hypocrisy. Didn't we help GM (and Chrysler) with a big bailout, and not help competitors Ford, Nissan, Honda, or Toyota or any other automaker that builds cars in the U.S.?
Moreover, the circularity of GM's logic leads to some strange places. It would presumably allow any big corporation to get tax deductions (in effect, tax subsidies from the rest of us) for outlays for lobbyists, political ads, and political donations to members of congress - so long as these expenditures help the company relative to its competitors.
Problem is, the tax laws don't allow this.
Nor does the law allow taxpayer-supported entities to use taxpayer dollars to influence elections. And yet this is exactly what GM is doing.
Since TARP, suspicions about big government in cahoots with big business have fueled angry tea partiers on the right and despairing cynics on the left. GM's crass disregard for the spirit if not the letter of the law continues to fuel them.
Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores.
This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.