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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Consumer Protection Agency

When Illinois Senator Charles H. Percy took to the floor of the Senate recently, he said some things the national and Illinois Chambers of Commerce would have rather not heard. A former big businessman himself, Percy hit them hard for their “unwarranted and impassioned attacks” on a pending bill to create a Consumer Protection Agency.

They deserved to be hit. For this bill would give consumers representation before federal regulatory agencies that are supposed to protect our health, safety and pocket books. For the first time, lawyers, economists, accountants, scientists, engineers, and others would be pressing from within government to get real recognition for buyers rights, taking the consumers case to agencies regulating the. food, drug, meat and poultry, auto, telephone, banking, utility, housing, and transportation industries.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce so distorted Percy’s senate speech that the Senator had to put out a point-by-point rebuttal, noting a few of the facts the Chamber ignored: (1) the proposed consumer agency has no authority to regulate or prosecute anybody; (2) it must operate on a tiny yearly budget averaging the equivalent of 4 or 5 hours of gross revenue of General Motors; (3) its consumer advocacy must stay within the rules of the commissions doing the regulating; (4) the agency will be only a fraction of the size of the vast US Department of Commerce which is an advocate for business within the government.

The wild Chamber of Commerce statements are contained in a secret propaganda kit sent by the national organization to state Chambers of Commerce around the country. It begins by describing the bill as “the most serious threat to free enterprise and orderly government ever to be proposed in Congress.”

This is news to co-sponsors — Senators Ribicoff, davits, Percy and the 71 others, Republicans and Democrats, who supported the bill back in 1970. The confidential kit further suggests how business groups should protest and how to hold strategy meetings. It advises whom to contact in Congress on a first-name basis. After suggesting the “stimulation” of favorable newspaper editorials, the propaganda concludes that “attendance at the suggested meetings by the working press or parties not sympathetic to the problems of the business community is not recommended. . . It is urged that you guard against publicity of your actions that might go beyond those who share your concern.” I’m sorry to say this shabby campaign is succeeding. Many businessmen, who, of course, haven’t read the bill, are flooding their congressmen and senators with letters and telegrams reproducing the US Chamber’s parade of horrors and hyperbole.

Well, if the US Chamber of Commerce really believes Republican Charles Percy is trying to engineer the destruction of free enterprise, it will believe anything. Why do businesses put up with this nonsense? Isn’t it time for Some sensible businessmen to investigate the Chamber of Commerce itself?

Senator Percy has urged Lester W. Brann, President of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, to recognize the real grievances of consumers. He should send Mr. Brann a few of the voluminous Senate hearings on consumer fraud, harmful products and corporate crime. Again and again in these hearings two points are made that honest businessmen should know. First, unless abusive practices are stopped, bad business will drive out better business and undermine quality competition in the market place.

Second, monopolistic practices and price-fixing are making a mockery of competitive
enterprise, leading to the domination of the economy by a few giant corporations. Is that in the interest of most American business?

Will the US Chamber of Commerce listen? Probably not. For if it did, the functionaries who run that organization would have to do their homework. How easier it is to invent dragons to slay. Then they can go back to their golf games and two-hour lunches.