Tad DeHaven

According to a recent article in the New York Times, that’s what a lobbyist for Exelon Corp. “proudly” called the Illinois-based energy company. It appears to be an appropriate label.

From the article:

Exelon’s top executives were early and frequent supporters of Mr. Obama as he rose from the Illinois State Senate to the White House. John W. Rogers Jr., a friend of the president’s and one of his top fund-raisers, is an Exelon board member. David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime political strategist, once worked as an Exelon consultant, and Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor and Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff, helped create the company through a corporate merger in 2000 while working as an investment banker.

With energy an increasingly pivotal issue for the Obama White House, a review of Exelon’s relationship with the administration shows how familiarity has helped foster access at the upper reaches of government and how, in some cases, the outcome has been favorable for Exelon.

White House records show that Exelon executives were able to secure an unusually large number of meetings with top administration officials at key moments in the consideration of environmental regulations that have been drafted in a way that hurt Exelon’s competitors, but curb the high cost of compliance for Exelon and its industry allies.

In addition, Exelon, which provides power to more than 6.6 million customers in at least 16 states and the District of Columbia, was chosen as one of only six electric utilities nationwide for the maximum $200 million stimulus grant from the Energy Department. And when the Treasury Department granted loans for renewable energy projects, Exelon landed a commitment for up to $646 million allowing it, on extremely generous financial terms, to finance one of the world’s largest photovoltaic solar projects.

The NYT piece is worth reading in its entirety as it’s a textbook example of the sort of crony capitalism that undermines the economy. Unfortunately, if the reader comments at the end of the article are any indication, most people are viewing the story through a partisan lens.

As I demonstrate in my Cato policy paper on corporate welfare in the federal budget, crony capitalism has a long, bipartisan history.

Rising federal spending and huge deficits are pushing the nation toward a financial and economic crisis. Policymakers should find and eliminate wasteful, damaging, and unneeded programs in the federal budget. One good way to save money would be to cut subsidies to businesses. Corporate welfare in the federal budget costs taxpayers almost $100 billion a year.

Policymakers claim that business subsidies are needed to fix alleged market failures or to help American companies better compete in the global economy. However, corporate welfare often subsidizes failing and mismanaged businesses and induces firms to spend more time on lobbying rather than on making better products. Instead of correcting market failures, federal subsidies misallocate resources and introduce government failures into the marketplace.

While corporate welfare may be popular with policymakers who want to aid home-state businesses, it undermines the broader economy and transfers wealth from average taxpaying households to favored firms. Corporate welfare also creates strong ties between politicians and business leaders, and these ties are often the source of corruption scandals in Washington. Americans are sick and tired of "crony capitalism," and the way to solve the problem is to eliminate business subsidy programs.

Corporate welfare doesn't aid economic growth and it is an affront to America's constitutional principles of limited government and equality under the law. Policymakers should therefore scour the budget for business subsidies to eliminate. Budget experts and policymakers may differ on exactly which programs represent unjustified corporate welfare, but this study provides a menu of about $100 billion in programs to terminate.


Tad DeHaven

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Previously he was a deputy director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget. DeHaven also worked as a budget policy advisor to Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).