Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Welcoming Our Corporate Overlords

Today I received a proxy statement from Bristol-Myers Squibb. I was interested to see a familiar name among the board nominees: Louis J. Freeh.

Yes, that would be the former FBI director. I guess I missed it when this story hit the newswires last fall:
NEW YORK, Sept. 13 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (NYSE: BMY) today announced that its Board of Directors has elected Louis J. Freeh, Vice Chairman of MBNA America Bank, N.A., to the Board. His appointment is effective today.

Of course, there’s nothing new about public servants joining corporate boards and vice versa: it happens all the time. Who has forgotten that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice served on the board of Chevron (even getting a Chevron oil tanker named after her), as well as the boards of Charles Schwab and Transamerica Corp.? Both Democrats and Republicans do it, and have for years. The media rarely if ever mentions a politician’s board affiliations (unless you’re Hillary Clinton, of course).

But it’s starting to bother me. Every week there’s a new press release about a former Administration official serving on some corporate board or another. For instance, last week Charlotte Beers joined the board of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia--a position she’d held previously:

Ms. Beers' election marks her return to MSLO's Board; she served as a director from 1999 to 2001, resigning to take a role in the Bush Administration as U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from October 2001 through March 2003.

Most of the time such things wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but the past decade has seen the establishment of a real government-industry revolving door, and this worries me. There are plenty of websites that discuss this (a good one with lots of disturbing examples of the revolving door can be found here) but it’s something rarely discussed in the media, except on lefty blogs. I wonder if people are really aware of what’s happening, if they care, and if anyone besides me thinks it’s a bad idea to blur the lines between big industry and government.