Congressional interference with GM isn’t helping. Quelle suprise!
Federal support for companies such as GM, Chrysler Group LLC and Bank of AmericaCorp. has come with baggage: Companies in hock to Washington now have the equivalent of 535 new board members — 100 U.S. senators and 435 House members.
Since the financial crisis broke, Congress has been acting like the board of USA Inc., invoking the infusion of taxpayer money to get banks to modify loans to constituents and to give more help to those in danger of foreclosure. Members have berated CEOs for their business practices and pushed for caps on executive pay. They have also pushed GM and Chrysler to reverse core decisions designed to cut costs, such as closing facilities and shuttering dealerships.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota persuaded GM to rescind a closure order for a large dealership in Bloomington, Minn. In Tucson, Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords did the same for Don Mackey, owner of a longstanding Cadillac dealership with 80 employees. Rep. Giffords argues it made sense, even for GM, to keep the Mackey dealership, which sold 750 cars last year. “All I did was to help get GM to focus on his case,” she says.
Lawmakers say it’s their obligation to guard the government’s investments, ensure that bailed-out firms are working in the country’s interests and protect their constituents.
Executives say congressional demands gobble up time and make a rocky business environment even more unpredictable. Bank chief executives say incessant calls from Capitol Hill, combined with threats of legislation, were among the main incentives for them to pay back money injected by the government and escape Washington’s clutches.
Thomas Geisel, chief executive of New Jersey’s Sun Bancorp Inc., says the bank paid back its federal money in June because of legislation that imposed limits on bankers’ pay, among other areas. “Lawmakers let emotion and ego get in the way of making good business decisions,” he says.
Probably no company has been more on the receiving end of congressional attention than GM, whose widely scattered factories, suppliers and dealership network put it in touch with nearly every U.S. congressional district. After committing $58 billion to keep the company afloat, the federal government took a 60% stake in the auto maker when the slimmed-down GM emerged from bankruptcy.
In May, even before the government’s ownership became official, lawmakers erupted when GM disclosed it planned to produce a new subcompact car at its factories in China. Under congressional pressure, GM dropped those plans and promised instead to retool an existing U.S. facility in Michigan, Wisconsin or Tennessee for the new model.
Lawmakers from those states demanded and received high-level meetings in Washington to quiz GM on the criteria for site selection and to tout their states. GM in the end picked a site in Michigan.