19. CORPORATE PAYOLA

Breaking the law apparently is the easiest, most common, and least known way America's corporations turn a healthy profit. More than 400 major American corporations paid billions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks during the 1970's. And while the average American's buying power steadily decreased through inflation, more than 550 corporations reported profit increases of 37% after taxes in 1979.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has discovered that kickbacks, bribery, and fraud are so pervasive in many corporations that it would be impossible to investigate and prosecute each one individually. The Commission thus devised a program whereby companies could investigate themselves and submit their reports to the SEC, hoping to win lenient treatment for having cooperated.

The information that reveals how billions of dollars have been spent on bribery, kickbacks, and questionable transactions to increase corporate Profits is readily available in documents regularly submitted to the SEC.

Yet these extraordinary disclosures are routinely ignored by the media and only mentioned in connection with a news event, such as the filing of a suit by the U.S. Department of Justice, political repercussions in a foreign country, or other such events.

One small publication, FOCUS/Midwest, did investigate the scope of questionable business practices conducted by corporations in Missouri and Illinois (where FOCUS is circulated). According to FOCUS editor and publisher Charles L. Klotzer, it "planned to publish only one issue on Corporate Payola. Because of the wealth of material unearthed about forty local corporations, the report was continued over three issues."

It found that over $ 48 million were involved in questionable corporate activities in those two states alone and that 26 companies had been charged by the SEC with shady transactions or have filed statements acknowledging transactions of dubious legality. Corporations cited in the FOCUS study included Abbot Laboratories, Ralston Purina Co., McDonnell Douglas Corp., General Dynamics, Anheuser-Busch Inc., Monsanto Co., Quaker Oats Co., Spiegel, Inc., and Tim. Wrigley Jr. Co.

The failure of the mass media to explore and report the total national scope of illegal corporate activities and its impact on the nation's economic and moral condition qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best censored" stories of 1979.

SOURCES:

FOCUS/Midwest, Vol. 13, Nos. 81, 82, 83, (May-October 1979), "Corporate Payola," by Tom Kennedy; The Nation, June 2, 1979, "Profits Without Honor," by Bertram M. Gross.