Corporate Power Vs. Consumer Justice/CPA Bill Defeated

WASHINGTON–If there is ever to Senator Sam Ervin, busy struggling against the Watergate mess, can be partially excused for delegating the job of pre­paring minority report to his counsel, Robert B. Smith, a crisp, virulently anti-consumer lawyer who huddles regularly with big business lobbyists trying to stop the CPA bill on the Senate floor.

But what can explain the behavior of Senators James Allen, Sam Nunn and Bill Brock in signing such a slipshod, windy, and insensitive dissent? As befits these radical reactionaries, the answer is that they prefer corporate power over consumer justice in the battle for a fair, responsive government.

This is the fifth year that a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives have been trying, against White House and corporate opposition, to enact the CPA to represent with skill and determination consumer health, safety and economic interests before other federal regulatory agencies. In 1970, the Senate passed this bill by the lopsided vote of 74 to 4.

A platoon of corporate and trade association lobbyists have been swarming around the Congress and getting their members to write to their legislators from around the country. Leading antagonists toward the consumer bill are the Grocery Manufacturers of America, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Food Chains, Proctor & Gamble, Greyhound, General Electric, Western Union, J.C. Penney, Ford, General Motors and Sears.

Supporting the bill are such otherwise diverse senators as Warren Magnuson, Charles Percy, Ernest Hollings, John Tunney, Abraham Ribicoff, Walter Huddleston and William Roth. These men have been listening to the mass of evidence presented before congressional hearings over the years regarding serious, systematic and widespread consumer abuses.

They know about Senator Nelson’s hearings on gouging drug prices, Senator Proxmire’s hearings on credit and privacy abuses, Senator Hartke’s hearings on transportation abuses and hazards, Senator Metcalf’s hearings on utilities and their resented waste and deceptions, Senator Kennedy’s hearings on casualties from unsafe health services,and Senator Hart’s massive documentation of monopolistic and anticompetitive practices that fuel inflation.

There is also a broad consensus in the Congress that federal agencies are captured by the industries they are supposed to keep straight and routinely, if not defiantly, ignore thescionable milk fund scandal might have been nipped in the bud by a CPA challenge before the Department of Agriculture to document its sudden turnaround on milk prices after political cash started flowing to politicians.

A number of enlightened corporate executives have spoken out in the past few years about the need for a fairer marketplace and elevated business practices. Indeed, in contrast to Sears, Marco (Montgomery Ward) has openly supported the CPA bill, along with two other companies–Zenith and Motorola.

In a recent telegram to Senator Ribicoff, 33 Governors (10 Repub­licans and 23 Democrats) expressed their strong backing for the CPA bill. Many consumer, labor and civic groups have supported this bill, S.707. One wag labeled it the “good ship consumer,” after the airplane of that model.

The minority report by Messrs. Ervin, Allen, Brock and Nunn totally ignores the fact that big business has several giant departments and agencies unabashedly advocating and promoting its interests with ample small taxpayer revenues.

Indeed, the law setting up the Department of Commerce at the turn of the century is “to foster, promote, and develop commerce and industry.” Its annual budget alone will be over 85 times the $15 million annual budget to be accorded the tiny CPA. Similar advocacy and promotional functions are performed for business by the Department of the Interior, the Civil Aeronautics Board, the Maritime Administration, the Department of “Agribusiness” (as it should be called) and other agencies subsidizing or shielding large corporations from the rigors of the marketplace.

Throughout this dissenting report, there is the familiar, bloated rhetoric overmagnifying the power of this purely advocacy agency. Worse is the shocking insensitivity to the trauma and torment of consumers exposed to the combined injustices of corporate power and their unchallenged and indentured government regulatory agencies.

Since Richard Leighton, the lobbyist for the food industry, had a substantial input in the shaping of the report overseen by Robert Smith, it is not surprising that it reads like a trade association release. Earlier in the session the House passed the CPA bill by a three to one margin. There should be a similar majority in the Senate when the vote comes up this month. But a possible filibuster by the radical reactionaries may delay the vote until enough consumers write to enough Senators to break such an impasse. be a consumer hall of infamy, charter members could include the four Senators who filed a hysterical, dissenting report against both the consumer protection agency (CPA) bill and the overwhelming majority of their colleagues on the Senate Government Operations Committee who voted for this landmark legislation.

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