JUAN GONZALEZ: Your reaction, first of all, to the stampede of attacks on ACORN, and what you are trying to do with the bill that you’ve introduced?Jeremy Scahill was also on to address the same subject
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, let’s be clear. I mean, ACORN was caught—some employees of ACORN were caught on tape saying incredibly stupid things, outrageous things. They were fired. They should have been fired. But that tape gets up on Fox, and it’s repeated over and over again, and without any kind of hearings, without any kind of process, suddenly this organization, which has done a lot of good work at the grassroots level in voter registration, dealing with affordable banking, housing, and so forth, suddenly, like this, they are defunded. I was one of the members of the Senate who voted against that, because I think you didn’t have any kind of process out there. It was absolutely unfair.
Meanwhile, we did a little bit of research, and my staff discovered that the three largest defense contractors—and we focused on defense because we’re in the middle of the defense appropriations bill—the three largest defense contractors—Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Boeing—who have received over the years hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars, not the $53 million that ACORN had received, but hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars, these three companies alone, just these three, have been involved in 109 instances of misconduct. They had paid $2.9 billion to the government for fines or settlements. So, this was not a two-minute videotape recording a stupid, absurd conversation. This is where courts of law or settlements have taken place, where these people have pled guilty or acknowledged misdeeds and paid $2.9 billion since 1995.
Now, I asked myself, gee, the Congress defunded ACORN, how much attention has been paid to this systemic fraud that goes on year after year after year? And after awhile, it’s not hard to figure out that for these large corporations, this is a way of doing business. This is not an accident; this is part of the business model.
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who’s been very good on the war contractor issue, voted in favor of defunding ACORN. All but seven Democrats voted for it the first time around, and then the next time around there were ten Democrats that voted against it in the Senate. What we have here are Democrats going out of their way to target an organization that has 500,000 member families and doing almost nothing to go up against the $300 billion-a-year contracting industry that literally is making a killing off of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, and these are companies that have actual convictions, actual rap sheets. They are companies that are actually corporate felons.
Juan, you mentioned Representative Betty McCollum’s legislation, the Against Corporations Organizing to Rip-off the Nation Act of 2009. It’s called the ACORN Act. What that would do would be to “prohibit”—and this is a quote—“prohibit the federal government from awarding contracts, grants or other agreements to providing any other federal funds to or engaging in activities that promote certain corporations or companies guilty of certain felony convictions.”
In particular, Betty McCollum targets Pfizer, the massive pharmaceutical company, the maker of the most popular drug in the Senate, Viagra. Pfizer recently settled with the US Justice Department what was described as the largest fraud—healthcare fraud settlement in the history of the US Justice Department. The total fines paid out by Pfizer were almost $3 billion—with a “b”—$3 billion for fraud, for mislabeling or mismarketing the purposes of an anti-inflammatory drug called Bexstra. They had to settle with various states’ Medicare programs for fraud. Yet, this is a company that received in 2007 $77 million in US government contracts. Betty McCollum’s legislation would seek to prevent this, would seek to stop it, because what you’re seeing is that when the—even though the Justice Department settled with Pfizer and this massive amount of money was paid, it’s really nothing to Pfizer in the broader sense of it, because Pfizer makes $40 billion a year in profits. Just in profits.