Here's One for the Birthers: Is GE's Jeffrey Immelt Really an American?
If President Barack Obama had announced this week that he was appointing Japan’s Takanobu Ito, president and CEO of Honda, to head his new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, one can imagine the shock wave that would go through the American body politic. A foreigner!--and one from one of America’s major competitors--to head a White House advisory panel on jobs and competitiveness?
And yet, at least the president could argue that Ito represents a company that earns the bulk of its revenues from its operations in the US.
But what are we to make of the actual announcement, that the president has named Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE Corp., to chair the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness?
Immelt heads a company that has for years topped the list of transnational corporations as ranked by the size of their foreign asset holdings. More significantly, GE is a company that for years has also received more of its revenues and its profits from abroad than from its US operations (a record 60% in 2009), that has far more of its 304,000 employees overseas than in the US, and that has more assets abroad than at “home,” where its headquarters offices are located.
Even those domestic revenues and earnings are less than they might appear, in terms of jobs at least, since they are primarily from the company’s financial subsidiaries, while most of the revenues and earnings from abroad are from its manufacturing operations.
What this means is that in very real terms, GE is not an American company. It is a foreign company that happens to be headquartered in the US, and that happens to have a chairman/CEO who was born in the US, and holds a US passport.
If Congress were serious about enforcing government rules on foreign lobbying, and if the Federal Election Commission were serious about enforcing its rules about foreign influence in US elections, Immelt and GE would have to register as foreign agents when they lobby Congress and the White House, and GE would be barred from donating funds to election campaigns.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that people on the loopy right are still making a fuss about whether President Obama was really born in Hawaii, or might really have been secretly born abroad before being sneaked into the US territory by his mother, but aren’t outraged at the appointment of the head of a functionally foreign firm to advise him on his domestic jobs policy. The truth is, it would hardly matter where an American president entered the world from his mother’s womb. The important thing would be where he grew up, how he viewed his national allegiance, and of course, whether he is an American citizen, none of which is in question in Obama’s case. On the other hand, there are plenty of good reasons to wonder whether GE’s chief executive, in becoming the president’s top advisor on jobs policy, really has America’s and American workers’ best interests at heart. (He isn't even being required to resign his posts at GE, which makes the question of where his real loyalty lies even more grave.)