Tips for How to Follow the Money
By Kimberly Carter Gamble
In journalism, they always say if a story doesn’t make sense, follow the money. To learn more about the value of this, you can check out various links on our website. Here are some easy tips for how to follow the money with projects and organizations in your life:
If there is a project in your town that you are concerned about:
Find out what corporation is proposing, or benefitting from, the contract. Let’s say it’s a proposed coal-fired power plant. One of the main coal companies around the world is AES Gener, so for these purposes we’ll say that is the corporation behind the project in your town.
AES Gener has to have a loan to fund the project. Just like you need a loan to build a house or start a business, big corporations need loans to fund their projects. Go to the website of the company. Go to the investor relations section and look up their SEC filings - particularly their annual report 10K and their annual proxy for indications of their lead bank. Sometimes it can be found in the exhibits (such as loan documents) to their annual report. The SEC filings can also be found on the SEC's website under their EDGAR system (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, & Retrieval).
Sometimes this is a tedious task and takes some sleuthing, and may show up indirectly. It is usually in fine print and amidst seemingly boring information. I first got the idea for this by doing a search for the word “risk” while I was digging around looking for the funding institution of a proposed coal plant. The 10K report had a statement saying that one of the risks to their shareholders was bad publicity for their bank. Voila! What a good idea! Create big risk to the funder and the project gets pulled! (Much of the money for coal plants in general, and for AES Gener in particular, is loaned by Bank of America. So if you oppose coal-based energy, don’t bank with Bank of America.)
Get as much negative publicity as you can for the bank and the project. Boycotts are one of the most effective strategies, because the banks rely on our deposits for the funds they use to make their loans. I suggest you organize everyone you know who opposes the project to withdraw their money from the bank that’s providing the loan. It is also valuable to ask them to put in writing to the bank why they are withdrawing their funds.
If you are supporting a charitable cause you can follow the money like this:
Check to see where any philanthropic organization you support keeps their money. You can call them up and ask, or you can check their Annual Report, which is required to be available to the public.
Because of fractional reserve lending, banks are allowed to loan out about 9 times the money they have on deposit. This is important for a variety of reasons, and in this case what it means is that if you give $100 to an organization that protects wildlife, and that organization banks with Union Bank of California, you are giving $900 worth of lending power to the bank and only $100 to the cause you support. Union Bank of California is owned by Mitsubishi, who is responsible for vast clear cutting, which is one of the major threats to wildlife. So a contribution to an organization that banks responsibly is a very leveraged contribution, just as a financial gift to one that banks with one of the tapeworm twenty is going to greatly undermine the impact you are hoping to have.
I suggest you speak directly to the people in charge of the organization you want to support. Many people are simply uniformed. It is also not an effortless process to move a large organization’s money – there are many perks from the banks and they will do a lot to keep big clients. Here is a link to some questions and considerations that can help them make the move. The more people do this the more competitive local banks and credit unions can become in terms of their services. Meanwhile, it is a question of values: Is it worth financially supporting the people and institutions who are causing so much destruction on this planet and in our lives just because they offer cheaper ATM fees and more immediate convenience?
You can tell the head of the organization that you will contribute when they change their bank to a local bank or credit union. Even if it’s not your local bank, if the charitable organization is based somewhere else, for instance, they can still bank with an institution that is local to them and their different branches, thereby making those communities more resilient while simultaneously de-funding our demise.
Here’s what I recommend for following the money with a political policy or congressional bill:
- Look outside mainstream media, especially outside official government sites
- See what the people and organizations who will be effected directly by the proposed policy think about it
- Expose yourself to opposing arguments
- Look for details about the policy or proposal rather than the broad idea
- Google search: don’t just use the first sites that pop up, try searching back several pages
- Think about who will benefit and who will be hurt from the policy
- Check sources for facts and ask for documentation of claims from key spokespeople
- Investigate the relationship between the person who is advocating for the policy and the people who will implement or benefit from it – This can be done by further googling the names of the spokespeople, their Board of Director and past employment affiliations, what other bills or projects they promote that benefit the same corporations, etc.
Here’s an example from July 2011. I was listening to the mainstream news right after President Obama gave his Jobs Report Speech to Congress. The latest unemployment statistics had just been released and a sense of panic prevailed. Flashing across all the stations was an excerpt from Obama’s speech in which he emphatically encouraged us to put pressure on Congress to pass the America Invents Act. I followed the process outlined above and here is what I found in one session of light research:
The America Invents Bill:
- favors big corporations, big banks, companies with funds to invest in patenting, undermining most inventors who lack large funds by changing the current “first to invent” clause to “first to file”
- forces inventors to spend money on patenting before research and development, experimenting and checking the merits of an invention – again benefitting large corporate interests
- the provision in Section 18 expands the time limits for a class of patents known as “business method patents” (BMP’s, allowing banks to infringe and use others patent’s for extended time periods without getting in trouble)
- converts US patent law to international patent law, (empowering global elite over sovereign nations)
So in fact big corporations and big banks would benefit from this America Invents Bill, and it would not help unemployment in any way.
No matter what subject I look into, the money almost always follows a predictable chain of command, benefitting big banks, and consolidating power into the hands of the people who own and control them. This is true globally, nationally and locally. The banking system is the mode by which it happens. So the place to follow the money is by looking to the banks, the bankers and the corporations they lend to.
You have a lot more power than you might realize.