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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Battle Over the Consumer Protection Agency

WASHINGTON–It is not Watergate that is on the minds of the big business lobbyists in Washington today. It is the consumer protection agency (CPA) bill now being slowly debated for the third time in the Senate since 1970.

All over town the trade associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, are frantically searching for every means of pressuring or tempting a small number of Senators necessary to block a large pro‑consumer Senate majority from defeating a last ditch filibuster attempt.

These lobbyists represent special interest groups which have been buying, selling or renting Washington for a long time to keep prices high, subsidies flowing and marketplace monopolies and deception intact. A tough consumer advocacy agency to challenge the cushy relationship between government regulatory agencies and the food, drug, auto, utilities, railroad and truck industries is the last thing they want to tolerate.

So the frantic lobbying goes on with promises of campaign funds, credit card dining and wining, orchestrated letter writing campaigns from the falsely frightened businessmen back in the Senators’ home states. These giant trade groups have ample money to spend. In a secret listing of expenditures, for example, by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the sum of $86,901.66 was spent in just one year – 1972 – to fightthe CPA bill. There were also detailed memoranda breaking down which corporate executives could reach what politicians. At the top of one list was Donald M. Kendall, head of Pepsi-Cola and friend of Richard Nixon. Kendall is shown to have contributed $23,000 to Nixon and $500 to Senator Robert Griffen (R.-Mich.) who is considered a key swing vote against the CPA.

High powered secret meetings by groups of corporate moguls in plush hotels and clubs to plan strategy reveal the determination to prevent 200 million consumers from having even a small agency fighting for their cause within the federal government. These groups are given code names in the minutes of these meetings such as the “RW8OD Group”or the “Madison Group.”

One such meeting was held on June 12th at the Aviation Club. It was chaired by Emmett Hines of Armstrong Cork and included men from Firestone, Armour, Greyhound, Exxon, Bethlehem Steel, Maytag, and United Airlines plus two dozen major trade associations. Minutes of the meeting noted that “A prominent representative was Bryce Harlow of Proctor f Gamble, just recently retired from the White House staff.”

Bob Smith, aide to Senator Sam Ervin, and Lyle Ryter of Senator Bill Brock’s staff were present to give pep talks. The confidential minutes say:

The request for speeches to be supplied to Senators Ervin and Allen to help the filibuster effort is still out. So far they have about forty speeches but will be glad to get more.

The leader of the filibuster is Senator Allen who likes canned material to help his obstructive efforts to keep the Senate from voting on the merits. He has filibustered so many bills in the past two years that angered Senators may leada move next January to modify the Senate rules which require a two-thirds vote to overturn a filibuster.

For now, the big business opposition to the bill is concentrating on the following “swing” Senators to support the Allen filibuster: Bennett Johnston (D.-La.), Russell Long (D.-La.), Robert Dole (R.-Kans.), Robert Griffin (R.-Mich.), Peter Dominick (R.-Colo.), Howard Baker, Jr. (R.-Tenn.), Hiram Fong (R.-Hawaii), and Milton Young (R.-N.D.).

The CPA bill is supported by thirty-two state governors, including eight Republicans. It passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming three-to-one margin earlier this year. The bill has the backing of 120 national and local consumer, farmer and union groups, as well as by the Economic Crime Committee of the National District Attorneys Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National Association of Attorneys General.

Why such broad support? Simply recount the outrages that consumers are being subjected to in the marketplace – inflation, price gouging, health and safety hazards – which the captive regulatory agencies are doing so little about.

If the Senators who have not made up their minds want further convincing, they might call the top executives of the companies who openly favor the consumer protection bill – Montgomery Ward, Zenith, Motorola, Connecticut General, among others. The Connecticut General spokesman put it simply: “The proposed mechanism is important to ensure that the consumer’s voice and interests are properly considered.” And if these Senators want some specific material on consumer fraud and illegal corporate practices, they can read the recent report on “White Collar Crime” whose author is none other than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.