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Politics & Policy

New Balance Claims Obama Administration Used Contracts to Stifle Policy Objections

The Boston Globe reports that locally-based shoe company New Balance is restarting its opposition to a trade deal supported by the Obama administration, contending the government failed to honor its side of  secret deal:

After several years of resistance to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact aimed at making it easier to conduct trade among the United States and 11 other countries, the Boston company had gone quiet last year. New Balance officials say one big reason is that they were told the Department of Defense would give them serious consideration for a contract to outfit recruits with athletic shoes.

The company contended that TPP’s phase-out of tariffs on Vietnamese shoes would hurt their sales. But the potential for a military contract — which could mean as many as 200,000 shoe orders a year — altered the equation for New Balance.

“We swallowed the poison pill that is TPP so we could have a chance to bid on these contracts,” said Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs. “We were assured this would be a top-down approach at the Department of Defense if we agreed to either support or remain neutral on TPP. [But] the chances of the Department of Defense buying shoes that are made in the USA are slim to none while Obama is president.”

What’s strangely missing from the Globe report is any sense of outrage that, unless New Balance is inventing this tale out of whole cloth, the Obama administration is using potential Pentagon contracts as leverage to stop private companies from publicly opposing their policies. The traditional liberal perspective is to fear corporations bribing the government, but here we have the government effectively offering a bribe to a corporation to change its opinion about policy, or at least suppress public expression of its opposition to a policy.

This is why big government is bad. Eventually it accumulates so much economic power that it inevitably starts throwing its weight around in a manner that punishes dissent. The Department of Defense is supposed to pick the best shoes available for the men and women in uniform; if it’s New Balance, great; if it’s another company, great. It’s not supposed to make major expenditures of taxpayer money dependent upon public acquiescence to the administration’s view.


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