Under the Influence is Tarbell’s weekly roundup about how special interests influence America. To subscribe, sign up at on our newsletter page, or you can make a donation and you will be enrolled automatically.

This Week in Tarbell

COVID-19 has shifted everyone’s lives, and we’re all uncertain what may be happening next. Therefore we at Tarbell are working hard to try understand the pandemic and the repercussions it will have for the community. Tarbell has built a COVID-19 resource center to keep you updated and informed on the pandemic and response as it unfolds. Tarbell’s Founder Wendell Potter has provided analyses of industry and hospital responses on Twitter and on Tarbell, plus publisher Scott Terry discussed the virus’ impact on the airline industry earlier this month.

What questions are you wondering about the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on your community and the country? What are you seeing done locally to handle the virus, and what are you most concerned about? Write an email to me at danielle@tarbell.org to share your experience, as I’ll try to round up some accounts for the next newsletter.

Insurance Industry and COVID-19: Health insurance companies may be sending out emails and messages saying they’re here to support customers. However, Tarbell Founder Wendell Potter advises to take these communications with a grain of salt, as private health insurance companies are focused on profit above all.


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Close the Schools: Tarbell columnist Dave Lindorff observed that school districts across the US had been slow to respond to the logistical struggle of closing schools. But as the country comes to terms with the scope of this pandemic, schools and businesses should be much more prepared to proactively close, Lindorff writes in his latest op-ed.

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Notable Reporting and Solutions

COVID-19 Insider Trading: While Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr was ensuring the country that the government was ready to fight COVID-19, his latest financial disclosure suggests otherwise. On February 13, before the economic shock really hit the country, Burr and his wife sold somewhere between $628,000 and $1.7 million, OpenSecrets found in his public disclosures.

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Lobbying Flurry: While Congress is constructing a stimulus package to support the economy, a range of companies have launched furious lobbying campaigns to ensure they benefit, from insurers hoping to limit doctor and hospital charges, to restaurants asking for reduced transaction fees.

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Defying Wall Street Reform Measures: As a part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, companies are supposed to publish their median pay to inject some transparency into corporate behavior and income inequality. But companies have been getting around this with a little slight-of-hand: publishing the pay increase for one employee who was at the previous median pay level, rather than calculating a new median.

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Making Up Excuses: Coal companies and truck driving companies have been using the global pandemic to cover their businesses filthy tracks. Companies are asking for a break from environmental regulations but using the economic slowdown due to COVID-19 as an excuse to do so.

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Danielle Keeton-Olsen is the Engagement Editor at Tarbell.org and a freelance journalist based in Southeast Asia.