Recently, while viewing on Netflix Robert Reich’s documentary based on his book, Saving Capitalism, I noticed he mentioned the “Powell Memo.” I went to the “library” and looked up the Powell Memo in my favorite reference source, Google. Two months before President Nixon nominated him in 1971 as justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Lewis Powell was a corporate lawyer and member of the boards of 11 corporations. He also wrote a memo to his friend, Eugene Sydnor, Jr, a director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It was a sort of “corporations of the world, unite!” manifesto.

What became known as the Powell Memo was confidential and didn’t become available to the public until long after his confirmation to our highest court. It eventually was leaked to syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, who unsurprisingly questioned Powell’s objectivity on the Court. The Powell Memo is often cited as having led to the era of increased political activity by corporations that lasts to this day. Some have credited it with influencing the creation of several conservative, pro-business think tanks and institutes such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and Manhattan Institute. These organizations were created, in large part, to counter the growing environmental and consumer movements, as well as a perceived anti-business atmosphere on our college campuses. It is not difficult to understand how they hit pay dirt with the election of Ronald Reagan and his less-government philosophy.

These institutions pursue a long-term strategy, focused on education, shifting values and movement-building. For those who are familiar with the Powell Memo and the organizations it has inspired, the recently-passed Republican tax “reform” bill should be no surprise. Rather, it is a culmination of their work since the last major tax reform was enacted in 1986. This latest tax bill doesn’t pretend to address the interests of the average voter–even the average Trump voter. Rather, it is a total sellout to the Republican donor class and provides $1.5 trillion of relief to corporations and their wealthy owners, at the expense of our children and grandchildren. Not a bad return on an investment of a few hundred million dollars over four decades.

Frank King

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