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*Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Victor DeNoble was forced to cancel at the last minute and filmmaker Charmaine Parcero will take his place in the post-screening Q&A session.
Perceptions of whistleblowers in feature films are generally favorable, and do much to combat unjustified negative connotations that a few people still hold toward workplace truth-tellers. The Insider, Serpico, The Constant Gardener, All The President's Men, The Whistleblower ... all of these films are based on true events, and show the power (and difficulty) that one person can have when choosing to step forward with the truth.
Well-known whistleblower-themed documentaries, however, are a bit more rare. But one new film, Addiction Incorporated – premiering this week in Washington DC, in association with GAP (info below) – does a truly great job of showcasing how a worker can stumble into corporate wrongdoing, immediately know something is not right, and (unfortunately) be effectively stifled for several years. And while the film's subject can be a difficult one – how cigarette companies knowingly kept health information about their products from the masses, resulting in countless deaths – it is quite enjoyable to watch, with a clear and interesting narrative.
The majority of the picture is driven by the story of scientist-turned-whistleblower Victor J. DeNoble, who journalists and politicians laud as being the individual that greatly helped turn the tide against Big Tobacco and its suppression of eye-popping health data. DeNoble was hired by Philip Morris in the early 1980s to develop a healthier cigarette (or so he was told). For years, the company had been trying to figure out how to make its customers not die from heart problems. In DeNoble's words, Philip Morris:
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On Tuesday, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) chaired a bipartisan hearing of a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee. The purpose of the hearing, "Whistleblower Protections for Government Contractors" was to build support for the Non-Federal Employee Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 241), legislation that seeks to expand and make permanent whistleblower protections for government contractor employees. These protections were initially passed in the 2009 stimulus law.
Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh), the former Office of Management and Budget chief, participated supportively. From GovExec:
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, noted that with "half a trillion dollars a year, or 15 percent of the budget," being spent on contractors, it is time to rethink the 19 current laws. "Whistleblowers are the eyes and ears of all of us, and are a vital communications link between daily program managers and those in Congress responsible for oversight," he said.
The House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee already has approved a two year pilot experiment in jury trial rights for contractor employees as part of HR 3289, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), but the McCaskill stimulus provisions are not included in S. 743 – the Senate version of the WPEA.
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60 Minutes Features Case of GAP Client
Courtesy of wikimedia user Jonathan McIntosh(Washington, DC) – Last Sunday night, the television news-magazine 60 Minutes featured a July 2011 interview of Eileen Foster, a former high-ranking official at Countrywide Financial Corp., the home loans behemoth, and then Bank of America (BofA) after its purchase of Countrywide in July 2008. Foster, now a GAP client, reported the corrupt activities of company officials, both pre- and post-purchase. In September 2008, BofA terminated Foster. Three months ago, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that BofA was wrong to terminate her, ordering her reinstatement and damages. However, BofA has appealed that order, and Foster's fight continues.
GAP Senior Counsel Richard Condit described the importance of the case: "Eileen Foster's case and those that will follow provide penetrating insight into how the home mortgage crisis arose and was readily accepted by corporate cultures that cared more about short-term gain than long-term disaster. Bank of America-Countrywide rejected the results of a two-year OSHA investigation. There is little indication the culture that created this crisis will ever change."
Click here to watch the 60 Minutes segment.
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The GAP publication The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide: A Handbook for Committing the Truth, released this past April, has been awarded the prestigious getAbstract International Business Book of the Year Award at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair. This prize seeks to honor books that have made a worldwide impact in business and economics. GAP Legal Director Tom Devine and former GAP Investigator Tarek Maassarani penned the book.
The guide prevailed in the face of much competition, as it was chosen from over 10,000 non-fiction books, and then selected from 10 finalists. getAbstract specializes in summarizing important business-related books in an effort to provide executives with the best of the latest business knowledge. As a winner, The Corporate Whistleblower's Survival Guide represents one of the most innovative business books of 2011. Along with the honor of being chosen, Devine and Maassarani join the ranks of previous winners Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan, 2007), Robert Shiller (The New Financial Order, 2003), Benoît Mandelbrot (The (Mis)behavior of Markets, 2004) and Chris Anderson (The Long Tail, 2006).
Praise for the book has been overwhelming, as illustrated by the Library Journal's accolade of its "admirably pragmatic chapters," and conclusion that "this is an important (and cost-effective) book for libraries to own."
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Courtesy of Flickr user steakpinballThe first time I heard the words "stare decisis" was my in my first term at law school in a rainy corner of England. My tutor explained that stare decisis is an accepted legal convention by which courts are bound by previous decisions they have made and by those of higher courts – also known as binding precedent.
The purpose of this principle is to ensure legal certainty and fairness for litigants. It also means there is a built-in check on judicial activism, so that society is less likely to end up with 'Judge made law'.
In United Kingdom courts, stare decisis is an accepted convention in judicial decision-making, and is only occasionally challenged. So, as a lawyer working on whistleblowing issues in the UK, I was very interested to come across this term several years after law school when I attended The Matthew Fogg Symposia on the Vitality of Stare Decisis in America in October, an event sponsored by the National Forum of Judicial Accountability (NFoJA) and GAP at the University of Baltimore.
The relationship between whistleblowing cases and stare decisis is not a connection that I have made while practicing in the UK. While there have been moments of judicial activism in UK courts (most notably, Lord Denning sitting in the Court of Appeal during the 1970s), our courts will generally defer to Parliament and recognize that law-making should be left to the legislature. So I was surprised to attend a conference dedicated to the issue of stare decisis, and to learn that that this was problematic for US whistleblowers.
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A coalition partner of GAP's International program – Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) – co-released a study earlier today that profiled 280 of our country's most profitable companies, and found that 78 paid no federal income tax in at least one of the last three years.
GAP and CTJ are both members of the FACT (Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency) Coalition because of common ground in international anti-corruption work. Many corporations and wealthy American citizens escape taxes by parking assets abroad, often illegally. Once privately-owned assets have been moved to "secrecy" jurisdictions (e.g. the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands) they are very hard to trace and tax.
One notable whistleblower who exposed such financial malfeasance is Bradley Birkenfeld, who revealed schemes involving financial services behemoth UBS (out of Switzerland) and approximately 52,000 wealthy corporate and individual US taxpayers.
This new report was co-released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The study is online here.
Bea Edwards is Executive Director at the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
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Last week Corporate Counsel reported that infamous military security firm Xe (previously Blackwater) has hired Suzanne Folsom as its first chief regulatory/compliance officer and deputy general counsel.
The article quotes Folsom crony and former AIG General Counsel Anastasia "Stasia" Kelly, gushing about her friend's talents:
Stasia Kelly brought in Folsom [to AIG] as deputy GC and chief compliance honcho. "She is a terrific professional and great compliance officer," Kelly said last week. "If I had another job for her, I'd hire her in a second." Kelly, now a partner at DLA Piper, adds: "She is the perfect person to accomplish Xe's goal of a turnaround" from the dark days of Blackwater.
Perfect! Because XE has quite a turnaround to accomplish. Widely known as the State Department's deadliest private security contractor, investigations of the company found that overbilling was potentially widespread in Afghanistan, and that Blackwater's mercenaries used lethal force "recklessly" in Iraq. The habitual misconduct of Blackwater personnel in Iraq, in fact, led Congress to pass legislation making U.S. contractors in combat zones subject to prosecution in U.S. courts.
But Kelly has faith in Folsom because these two have worked on tough assignments before. They supervised compliance functions at AIG in the lead up to the 2008 implosion, and then bailed themselves out with severance packages so generous that Senator Charles Grassley requested the details of them.