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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Behind the Fillibuster

Sen. Robert Griffin’s (R-Mich.) critical role in sustaining by one vote the minority filibuster tactic which beat back a majority of 65 senators in favor of the consumer protection bill (S.707) is a matter of record. But how and why he fought this bill is an inside story which should interest more than the deceived voters of the state of Michigan.

The consumer protection bill became a pawn in the chess game which Griffin plays in his scramble to become the minority leader of the Senate. (He is now minority whip.) He does not feel strongly about this all-important consumer bill one way or the other. In 1972 when he was up for reelection and needed consumer votes, he voted three times to cut off the filibuster. But in 1974, four years away from another election, he voted four times to keep the filibuster.

Some may construe this shift as the politics of cynical deception. For Griffin it is the politics of power with the following backdrop.
Leading the baying pack of corporate lobbyists against the consumer legislation are Ford Motor Company, General Motors and the Michigan Auto Dealers Association. These are forces Griffin will not ignore.

Among the cast of big business campaign contributors for Griffin, the auto industry stands most prominent. In 1972, John S. Bugas, former Ford Motor Company vice-president, gave $6,000 while GM President Edward N. Cole gave $1,500. Contributions from James W. Roche of GM, Lynn A. Townsend of Chrysler, Roy D. Chapin Jr. of American Motors and Lee Iacocca of Ford Motor Company helped round out the rest of the industry.

As important as campaign funds is the political support which accrues to Griffin from the state’s dominant industry and the businesses which thrive off of it. With Michigan’s other senator, Philip Hart (D) displaying an independence and critical attitude toward the auto companies, Griffin and the auto moguls have settled down to a long honeymoon on safety, pollution, and economic issues.

Back in the Senate, Griffin worries about a suspected challenge next January to his position as minority whip bythe radical reactionary, Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.). He worries not so much about losing as about not winning big in this intra-party struggle. Consequently, an adamant stand against the consumer bill endears him to the right wing of the Senate’s Republicans.

And so on September 19th, 1974, with Al Bourland of GM, Wayne Smithey of Ford Motor Co., and Bob Smith of Sen. Sam Ervin’s (D-N.C.) staff hovering around him, Griffin held the filibuster forces together and helped switch the vote of Sen. Milton Young (R-N.C.), who turned out to be the crucial turncoat the filibuster forces were counting on.

The day before the vote, the bipartisan supporters of the House-passed consumer bill, Reps. Chet Holifield (D-Calif.) and Frank Horton (R-N.Y.), called President Ford. They urged him to come out for the bill to turn around a few votes in the Senate. Ford replied that he would have to consult with Griffin.

Griffin says he has not asked the President to remain silent on the bill. He doesn’t have to, having already made clear his hard-nosed opposition.

When his Michigan constituents write and ask him why he is against the bill, he highlights a so-called exemption for labor-management relations. This is a phony objection. This provision merely clarifies the scope of the bill which restricts the nonregulatory consumer agency to simply being an advocate with full rights before other agencies of government whose policies significantly affect the health, safety and economic well-being of consumers in marketplace transaction.

Also, corporate management itself would vigorously oppose any incipient authority in the consumer agency to challenge any future regulated labor-management relations and obtain productivity or cost data in the process.

Twenty of Griffin’s fellow Senate Republicans supported the consumer bill. None other than the conservative Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kans.), who worked hard for passage of the legislation after its Senate sponsors accepted several of his compromise amendments, believed that the labor exemption was being used as a pretext for filibustering senators.

There is one more chance for the bill to become law. If Griffin gives the signal in the post-election session of Congress, the White House and he could provideat least one positive contribution to consumers in their fight against inflation, monopolies and marketplace fraud. Thirty corporations broke ranks from their trade associations and supported this bill because it was just and right for consumers to have a professional voice in Washington.

Perhaps the fate of the consumer bill is not ultimately up to Griffin. Perhaps it is up to the consumers of Michigan to organize their voice and impress their wishes upon the Senator who beguiled them before the 1972 elections and forgot them in 1974. Let him know what you think.