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Conflicts of Interest

September 29, 2011 by Matt

Ford World Headquarters HQ Corporate Building Office

Whether you’re an individual or a corporation, standing on your own two feet is something to be proud of. Ford, the only one of the Big Three automakers not to receive bailout money during the opening months of the current administration, recently rolled out an ad pitching their relative independence from taxpayers as a selling point.

It’s understood that Ford’s relationship with their unions is just as unhealthily symbiotic as GM’s or Chrysler’s. Also, despite the fact they didn’t require bailout funding, Ford has certainly been on the receiving end of the taxpayer dole many times in the past. So they’re not “blameless” by any means. Still, I regard the company more positively than its rivals for having had the management acumen to navigate the recent downturn without requesting a public lifeline, and a recent survey shows I’m not alone: 50% of those asked said they’d be less likely to buy a GM car because of the bailout.

However, not everyone smiles on Ford’s publicizing of their independence, including some in positions of power. The Detroit News reports:

Ford pulled the ad after individuals inside the White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008, in early ’09 and again when the ad flap arose. And more.

With President Barack Obama tuning his re-election campaign amid dismal economic conditions and simmering antipathy toward his stimulus spending and associated bailouts, the Ford ad carried the makings of a political liability when Team Obama can least afford yet another one. Can’t have that.

The ad, pulled in response to White House questions (and, presumably, carping from rival GM), threatened to rekindle the negative (if accurate) association just when the president wants credit for their positive results (GM and Chrysler are moving forward, making money and selling vehicles) and to distance himself from any public downside of his decision.

Behold an “intended consequence” of government takeover of private industry: The success of a company becomes a political liability, and something to be suppressed. A committee from the House of Representatives is investigating the extent to which the administration pressured Ford to yank the ad, but as they say, the damage is done. The Obama White House has amply demonstrated it has no qualms using taxpayer money to pick winners and losers in the private sector, and won’t hesitate to strongarm companies like Ford who remain proud of their more prudent fiscal decisions, and have every right to crow about it.

Filed under: Car Industry, Ford, News

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