I complained the other day about a modest little $13 million grant of U.S. taxpayer money to General Electric for some research into high temperature electronics. The electronics are intended for deep well drilling applications such as for oil and gas or geothermal resource development. The program is just one of many, many connections between GE and the federal government in Washington, DC.
Marc Gunther provides a more complete assessment of the GE-DC link under the heading “GE and Washington: Too cozy?” Gunther notes that GE’s performance since Jeffrey Immelt became CEO in 2001 has lagged the market as a whole. He sums up a lengthy post, worth reading in its entirety, with the following observations (emphasis added, link in original):
I don’t know GE well enough to say whether there’s a connection between GE’s focus on Washington and its subpar performance. Certainly questions could be asked (by the board?) about whether GE executive time and shareholder money might have been better spent elsewhere—developing new products, say, or improving service to customers. To its credit, GE has sustained a big, global R&D operation while other companies have cut back.
I do know that as the federal government grows in size and influence, corporations will spend more of time and money in Washington. (The Times reported today that the health care and insurance lobbies spent more then $648 million in 2009.) Business will also do more to influence elections, particularly after the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
What to do? Surely one way to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington is to give them less government to be interested in.