Do you advocate public policies as a way to help your donors’ businesses?
Brian: That’s a fair question and I understand why it comes up. Our founder does lead one of the biggest businesses in the world. And frankly, many businesses do try to rig the system in their favor — using political connections to get handouts, tax loopholes, and other favors that benefit their business at the expense of everyone else.
It’s called special-interest corporate welfare — where businesses get ahead by having the best political connections rather than by creating better products that help people improve their lives.
At Stand Together, we reject that approach. We believe businesses should succeed only by benefiting others. That means no businesses — including those owned by our partners — should be able to get special handouts. The only way to legitimately earn profits is by serving customers.
That’s why you’ll never see us support policy reforms that give special favors to any businesses. In fact, we actively oppose every policy that would create special favors for businesses, including those owned by our donors.
Charles: This is an issue I’ve been passionate about since the 1960s. Corporate welfare is one of the biggest problems in our society and one of the things I’m most passionate about getting rid of.
In the 1970s, Richard Nixon’s re-election committee asked our company for an illegal donation. The implication was clear: Support us and your business will get special favors, don’t and you won’t. I immediately turned down Nixon’s agents.
I tell this story because it shows that special-interest corporate welfare has been around for as long as I’ve been in business. I’ve spent my entire career urging business leaders to focus on creating value for customers, not getting favors from politicians and bureaucrats. In the 1970s, I recruited Milton Friedman to help me start an organization called “BLAST” — Business Leaders Against Subsidies and Tariffs (two of the most prominent examples of special-interest corporate welfare).
Yet the problem has only gotten worse. Today, the system is so corrupted that if you’re in business, it’s virtually impossible to avoid being affected, positively or negatively, by anti-competitive regulations, tariffs, subsidies, tax preferences, you name it. It drives me crazy.
Like all businesses, we abide by the rules of the road — and our business benefits from many of these, all of which we would rather do without. But unlike others, we oppose special-interest corporate welfare of every kind and are actively working to eliminate it, even when doing so reduces our profits.
For example, we were the first big business to oppose — and finally defeat — the Border Adjustment Tax, a proposal put forward by Republicans in 2017 that would have increased our profits by as much as $1 billion each year. But it would have done so by raising prices on consumers. We oppose steel tariffs even though they would increase profits at a steel mill we recently built. We oppose subsidies for all forms of energy, whether they benefit or hurt our refineries.
Anyone who knows me knows this is an issue I’m especially passionate about. If you are as well, let us know — we need a lot more people to stand up and say enough is enough.