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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Display of Arrogant Power

Like an 800-pound gorilla who can sleep anywhere he wants, General Motors, led by mean Thomas A. Murphy, believes it can get anything it wants.

A few weeks ago, Murphy reneged on GM’s promise to the Department of Transportation that it would install air bags in many of its large 1982-model year cars. This meant that Murphy was intentionally withholding from GM’s cars a highway-proven safety system, perfected by the company’s own proud engineers and was condemning many motorists to death and injury. What’s more, GM now is urging Congress and the Carter Administration to drop the entire passive restraint standard issued by the Department of Transportation. This regulation is the most important one in the history of the auto safety law.

As if such behavior was not sufficiently destructive, Murphy and his lobbyists are trying to pull of a truly unparalleled display of arrogant power at the state legislative arena. GM’s car sales have been declining. Instead of cutting its price, in accordance with free-market precepts, the giant company has been pressuring state lawmakers in key industrial states to suspend their sales tax on cars for a month or more this summer. This is supposed to help car sales during the summer doldrums.

Some states, like New Jersey and Illinois, said they had budget problems and declined GM’s demand. Michigan, after some initial resistance, agreed to reduce temporarily the state sales tax from 4 percent to 2 percent. A few days ago, GM, frantically trying to prevail before state legislatures adjourned, unleashed a ploy that stunned even its indentured Solons in Lansing. On Monday, June 30, GM announced one of its frequent price increases in the midst of declining sales. The average increase came to $135 a car. Then GM offered to postpone its price hike for any state that “should pass legislation that grants a special sales tax reduction on the sale of new vehicles” for the period of the reduction.

The Lansing legislators uttered their astonishment — one GM backer, Rep. Gary Vanek, said, “It’s almost like blackmail.” But GM held fast. On Wed­nesday, the Michigan legislature meekly passed the aforementioned tax reduction.

Given such behavior, Thomas A. Murphy should become a household name. His zigs and zags clearly are more frequent and momentous for this country than any dozen Hollywood stars who are household names.

It was Thomas Murphy who opposed the Chrysler bail-out by Washington with pontifications about the free-enterprise system of sink or swim, but it is the same Murphy who demands major tax abatements or other taxpayer subsidies in communities where the automaker wants to establish or expand a new plant.

It is Thomas Murphy who carefully cultivates his image as an upstanding member of the business community. But it is the same Murphy who in closed meetings with high-ranking government officials argues against modest federal life-saving, disease-preventing and dollar-saving standards. Not content with stopping progress in this area, a recent Murphy paper to those high-ranking officials privately listed dozens of these measures which GM wants revoked or blocked. The document will become a classic illustration of how a giant corporation, led by a callous executive, works to make its DOLLARS the measure of major societal values, including the sanctity of human life.

President Carter’s advisers are looking for cam­paign themes. One could be to run against General Motors and show that what is good for Thomas Murphy and his ilk decidedly is bad for America, taxpayers, consumers and the integrity of good government.