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OPINION

It's Time for the Tea Party to Send a Message to GE, Jeff Immelt and Obama

By selecting General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to lead the White House's new “President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness,” President Obama is enticing further backlash from Tea Party activists. It seems the political "shellacking" of the November midterm elections did not compel Obama to take seriously the concerns driving Tea Party activists.

In his State of the Union speech last month, Obama attacked the oil industry and promoted GE’s business interests in renewable energy. Make no mistake, this will only add to Tea Party outrage over the president’s partnership with Immelt.

If Obama had even a superficial understanding of the Tea Party movement he would have never chosen Immelt, who is the poster child for big-business leaders who represent almost everything Tea Party members oppose.

Government bailouts, lobbying for earmarks, aggressive support for cap-and-trade, lobbying for the expansion of government and run-ins with securities regulators are all part of Immelt’s legacy at GE.

Despite this, Obama described Immelt as “…one of the most imaginative and visionary business leaders in America…”

To take action against Obama’s appalling choice, the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project – which I serve as director – and FreedomWorks, a national grassroots organization, has partnered to run a national advertising campaign. Our 60-second video ad educates the public on Immelt’s record and encourages Americans to sign a bigbusinesswatch.org petition urging Immelt to resign.

Some specifics on Immelt’s record:

* During the stock market meltdown in 2008, GE faced mounting financial problems. GE borrowed $16 billion from the Federal Reserve and was given special treatment by the government when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insured up to $139 billion in debt issued by GE Capital – GE’s financial arm.

* GE continues to ignore the public outcry over earmarks. Last year it successfully lobbied for a $450 million earmark for a backup engine designed by General Electric and Rolls-Royce for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. As a result, funding for the project was included in the stopgap budget bill passed in December. Currently, GE is lobbying the new Congress to permanently fund its jet engine.

* GE is an aggressive supporter of Obama’s cap-and-trade energy policy. The company was a founder of the United States Climate Action Partnership -- a lobbying coalition of liberal environmental activist groups and corporations seeking government limits on greenhouse gas emissions. GE seeks government action to make fossil fuels more expensive so the renewable energy products in which GE is invested – wind turbines and solar panels – will be more competitive.

* GE lobbied for President Obama’s $787 billion dollar stimulus plan, which included $60 billion for clean energy. The company was awarded about $46 million in grants and contracts from the stimulus package and hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money went to some of GE’s utility company customers.

* GE settled twice with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The company was fined $50 million for “cooking the books” to boost earnings and was fined another $23.4 million for its involvement in a kickback scheme to secure contracts from Saddam Hussein’s government.

* GE sold, then unapologetically defended selling energy infrastructure and other equipment to Iran. The company justified its decision in a letter to the SEC by saying, in part, “The issue of whether to conduct business in certain countries is complex; we must take into account not only the views of the U.S. Government but all relevant stakeholders.”

* GE employees and shareholders have suffered under Immelt’s ten-year reign. The company’s stock value sells for about half its price since Immelt became CEO and its dividend has been significantly cut.

Conservative outrage over Immelt’s record is measurable. Our organization and FreedomWorks conducted a nationwide poll of conservative voters regarding their opinion of companies that actively support Obama’s big-government agenda. GE policies were a focus of our poll.

The results show General Electric experienced plummeting favorability among conservatives after they were informed of the company's lobbying efforts. The drop in favorability was most severe with conservative voters active in the Tea Party movement.

With conservative voters, the favorability of General Electric fell from 51 percent to 20 percent, and sixty percent of this group said they are less likely to buy products from companies that have lobbied in favor of Obama's legislative agenda.

Only 28 percent of conservatives active in the Tea Party had an initial favorable opinion of GE, but this number dropped to 13 percent after these voters were informed of GE's support of Obama's policies and 81 percent of this group said they are less likely to buy products from companies that have actively lobbied in favor of Obama's legislative agenda.

Obama’s appointment of Immelt to the jobs panel and their mutual interest in advancing renewable energy is a direct challenge to the values of Tea Party activists. Odds are the recommendations from Obama’s new advisory group will only serve to promote the president’s green economy vision while promoting Immelt’s short-term business interests.

It’s time for Tea Party activists to send a strong message to Immelt that ‘We the People’ will not stand for progressive business leaders who undermine our values of limited government, fiscal responsibility and free enterprise.

Tom Borelli, Ph.D., director of the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research