After Obama Appointment, Tea Party Calls For GE CEO’s Ouster (VIDEO)

January 24, 2011 5:25 a.m.
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FreedomWorks, the arm of the tea party movement led by former Rep. Dick Armey (R), is launching a new national negative campaign ad today. The target is not a progressive politician, moderate Republican or President Obama — the usual suspects when it comes to tea party commercials — or even an elected official at all.

“In a world of ‘too big to fail,’ we the people cannot afford Jeffrey Immelt running G.E.,” the ad’s narrator says. “Tell Jeffrey Immelt it’s time for him to go.”

Among Immelt’s crimes? Taking bailout money, speaking positively about cap-and-trade, employing Keith Olbermann (He’s “allowed verbal attacks on patriotic Americans,” the ad says) — and of course, working in the Obama administration.

Last week, Immelt was appointed by Obama to head the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, an economic growth advisory panel. It was a move that most saw as Obama attempting to rekindle his relationship with the corporate world.In a Washington Post op-ed following his appointment, Immelt said the position will focus on strengthening the American economy into the future.

“My hope is that the council will be a sounding board for ideas and a catalyst for action on jobs and competitiveness,” he wrote. “It will include small and large businesses, labor, economists and government.”

But FreedomWorks alleges Immelt’s reasons for taking the job are far more nefarious.

“[We] believe that Jeffrey Immelt will use the Council to continue lobbying on behalf of rent-seeking General Electric, and to restrict its competitors in the marketplace,” a release from FreedomWorks reads. The organization is joined in the effort to oust Immelt by the Free Enterprise Project, an arm of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research.

In a statement, NCPPR economist Thomas Borelli alleges that the Council position is nothing short of a quid pro quo between Obama and G.E.. Obama will get the corporate cred he needs from Immelt, Borelli says, and G.E. will get White House help in boosting its profits.

“Obama and Immelt are mutually dependent on each other. Obama needs corporate money for his re-election campaign and Immelt needs the president’s muscle to continue the Administration’s war on cheap energy to make GE’s renewable energy products economically competitive,” he said. “Making energy prices skyrocket is not an economic recovery plan. It’s a recipe for economic disaster.”

So far the ad has been released on the Internet, and a spokesperson for FreedomWorks told TPM it will run on cable sometime in the future. The spot urges viewers to sign an online petition calling on Immelt to step down from GE.

Though the ad seems prompted by Immelt’s appointment to the Obama’s advisory panel, FreedomWorks has threatened to turn its fired up tea party supporters on Corporate America for some time. As the dust was still settling after the midterm elections in November, FreedomWorks promised to take on GE and other companies “that lobbied for passage of Obama’s agenda items that helped their firms,” including “healthcare reform, bailouts, cap-and-trade energy policies or other issues pushed by the administration.”

Now it seems FreedomWorks is making good on its promise.

“It’s time to break up the unethical romance between government and big business. For too long, corporate elites have lobbied to profit from the size and growth of government at the expense of hard-working Americans,” group president Matt Kibbe said in a statement. “We’re here to let President Obama and Jeffery Immelt know that the days of easy money through backroom deals are over.”

Watch the anti-Immelt spot:

Update: I spoke with Wayne Brough, FreedomWorks’ chief in-house economist, about the policy arguments behind the Immelt-must-go push. He said Immelt is just a convenient poster boy for a larger, “corporate welfare” problem between government and business. Instead of allowing the marketplace to determine winners and losers, Brough said, big companies like GE and others too often come to Washington and order up regulations from sympathetic politicians that regrade the playing field in the corporate leaders’ favor. The goal of the new campaign is to leverage the tea party to stop that from happening.

If the tea party were to force Immelt from his job, it would be “an alarm bell for companies saying this is not the way business should work.”

Brough said the problem is not Democratic or Republican problem — both sides have been guilty of corporate welfare — but a business-Washington problem. Brough said is probably a bad idea to have any CEO take a position with the government like Immelt did.

“I’m a little skeptical of having a CEO in a role like this at all,” he told me. “it’s probably pretty hard to find a CEO who’s hands aren’t tainted with Washington.”

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