This piece was originally published in Newsweek.
High profile executive branch leaders should routinely single out specific corporations for the negative impacts they have on people, while enthusiastically enforcing existing regulations to penalize those corporations for their abuses. This is the central thesis of the kind of corporate crackdown we at Revolving Door Project have been calling for. Vice President Kamala Harris is a strong candidate to helm such a crackdown by the Biden administration.
This kind of strategy constitutes both good governance—the executive branch should be using its powers to protect the public from the self-interest of profit-seeking corporations—and good politics. Recent polling showed that 89 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans support the government negotiating to drive drug prices lower. More broadly, our research showed that the majority of Americans across party lines support more populist economic policies and messaging.
Additionally, a corporate crackdown focus has much greater potential to seize the public’s attention than the more tempered criticism President Joe Biden has leveled at corporations since embarking on a “Bidenomics” economic policy speaking tour in July. While the policy priorities Biden is laying out—attacking junk fees, raising taxes on the wealthy—could help to shrink the wealth gap and protect consumers, they do not constitute a right-sized approach to the actual economic issues facing Americans (not to mention the corporate greed-driven climate crisis).
And Biden’s gently chiding tone fails to meet the moment in an anxious and pessimistic country. U.S. voters know that there is a predatory relationship between corporations and the public, with corporations routinely externalizing the impact of their excesses onto their employees and the public to make a profit, via practices ranging from outright theft of wages to perilous working conditions to the massive pollution driving the climate crisis. According to recent polling, 61 percent of U.S. adults place “a lot” of blame for inflation on “large corporations seeking maximum profits”—with corporate greed ranking as the single top target of blame. Majorities also support recent high-profile labor actions like the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the ongoing UAW strike.
There’s no better person to start a campaign against the corrupt than Vice President Harris.
For one thing, a corporate crackdown would entail mobilization of agencies and departments across the federal government, applying existing regulations protecting the public from corporate wrongdoing. From the Department of Labor and OSHA on labor protections, to the EPA and DOE on climate protections, and beyond, corporate crackdown work would be split among a veritable alphabet soup of agencies. The VP could play a coordinating role in carrying out this strategy among siloed federal units, while being a central spokesperson to increase public awareness and stoke support for those efforts.
Further, Harris has experience from her time as California’s attorney general in confronting abusive corporate entities. In 2012, Harris made major banks commit to up to $18 billion in debt relief for California homeowners. She also led the effort to shut down Corinthian Colleges Inc., a for-profit post-secondary educational business that “defrauded tens of thousands of student loan borrowers.” Through these efforts and others, Harris built her reputation as an attorney general and then a senator as a conflict-ready Harris has billed her VP role similarly, with her website presenting her brand as being “for the people — breaking barriers and fighting for working families.” Picking high-profile fights with corporate villains would be a material demonstration of those professed values, and would push back on the reputation she’s earned as a relatively low-key, underwhelming VP, and even a possible threat to Biden’s re-election chances.
Voters support cracking down on corporations in defense of the public good. It’s time their representatives embodied this widespread support and picked fights with the corporate villains they usually tiptoe around, both because it’s the right thing to do, and because their political future may depend on it.