GE and Washington: Too cozy?

Since 2004, when I wrote a story for FORTUNE called Money and Morals at GE , I have been an admirer of General Electric and its CEO, Jeff Immelt. My admiration deepened when GE unveiled EcoMagination, its effort to solve important environmental problems. Immelt and GE also led the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an alliance of big business and big NGOs committed to getting the government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Jeffrey Immelt
Jeffrey Immelt

But–and you knew there’d be a but, didn’t you?–I’ve got a couple of questions about GE and Immelt that have been nagging at me. First, has GE become overly focused on Washington? Second, when will Immelt deliver for GE shareholders?

The first question was prompted by an aside in John Harwood’s column in The Times a week ago, about the Obama administration’s all-out effort to get Ben Bernanke confirmed as Fed chief. He wrote:

The investor Warren Buffett and Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chairman of General Electric, helped contact senators, a senior official said.

There’s nothing wrong with this, of course; Immelt has the right to ask senators to support Bernanke. But it reminded me that this registered Republican and his company have closely aligned their interests with the administration. Immelt serves on the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Newly-released figures show that among big companies or unions, GE was second only to Exxon Mobil in lobbying expenses during 2009, spending $21.4 million. (Other sources put the figure higher.) This isn’t a surprise–GE is a huge company (2009 revenues were $156 billion) and it has a myriad of Washington interests, including taxes, trade, energy policy and financial regulation.

But there’s more. GE’s Washington operation is a case study in Washington’s revolving door. Nancy Dorn, who runs the office, [click to continue…]

Climate Change Schizophrenia


I’ve been a fan of Slate since the Microsoft/Michael Kinsley days and more recently I’ve been enjoying The Big Money, Slate’s business and economics site, featuring the amazingly prolific Dan Gross. So I’m pleased today to make my first contribution to Slate and The Big Money. It’s a story about climate change politics.

The story asks: Why do corporations support regulating greenhouse gases also fund the most important lobby that opposes it?

You may be surprised to hear that dozens of big companies (GE, Ford, Nike, Alcoa, PepsiCo, DuPont, Xerox, Nike, many others) that advocate for climate change legislation in Congress also help finance the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a tough and important opponent. Why? Well, the companies support the chamber because it acts on behalf of business on many other issues. But the chamber’s position on climate change is a bit of a mystery. Read the story to learn more. And check out the cool cartoon below