Skip to content
Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > A Polite Anti-Consumerist

Outside the door of a Sen­ate meeting room recently, Sen. James B. Alien (D-Ala.) was huddling with Al Bourland, a notorious anti-consumer GM lobbyist. The filibuster-prone senator was exchanging strategies and information about the Con­sumer Protection Bill (S.200) which he has op­posed for five years.

Allen then joined the other senators on the com­mittee to vote on provisions to include in the bill. Sitting at the table in the commit­tee room, he assumed his pose as a conservative southern senator express­ing his independent convic­tion against the federal bu­reaucracy.

Is Allen such a senator or does his polite Alabaman drawl mask the typical spe­cial interest pleader, such as Sen. Bill Brock (R-Tenn.) or Sen. Robert Grif­fin (R-Mich.) who help indenture the Senate to big business?

Allen’s real behavior sup­ports the latter interpreta­tion. Consider the follow­ing:

The junior senator from Alabama was handsomely supported in last year’s election by tens of thou­sands of dollars of business contributions, including sizeable ones from the oil industry inside and outside the state, even though he ran unopposed.

The petroleum moguls must have been pleased watching Allen last year successfully filibustering an attempt by liberal senators to repeal the oil depletion allowance. His campaign fi­nance reports, though often very general, still manage to disclose contributions from corporations vigorous­ly opposing the consumer bill, including Scars and the mortgage bankers.

°Asserting fairness, Allen opposed the exemption of broadcasters from the pur­view of the consumer bill’s advocacy rights before the Federal Communications Commission. This is a tactic designed to get the broad­casters and their favorite senators to oppose the con­sumer bill.

Allen’s real position, well known to the broadcasters, was reflected in his vote last year on H.R. 12993, a bill to change from three years to five the period for which licenses to broadcast on the public airwaves are granted, further removing the broadcasters from con­sumer accountability.
Allen introduced his own toothless version of a con­sumer bill two years ago as a decoy. In fact, despite his expertise on Senate rules, he seems not to know what’s in his own bill.

He took Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to task for proposing an amend­ment that would expend grants to help state and local governments establish stronger consumer agen­cies. Yet in his own bill,

Allen has a section doing much the same thing that would cost at least as much. Allen says that S. 200 would not help the consum­ers of Alabama — a rather patronizing ignorance of the bill’s explicit assistance to American consumers. His own state attorney general, William Baxley, came to Washington last month to testify before Alien and the other senators on precisely how this legislation would help consumers.

WHEN WE referred a number of consumer com­plaints from Alabamans to Senator Allen’s office for assistance several weeks ago, he ignored them. Every one of the 12 consum­ers from Alabama told us they had never heard from Senator Allen on their complaints.

As a clever politician, Allen rarely comes out and says he is supporting big business. Rather he couches his arguments in procedural objections or en­gages in sallies against bu­reaucracies. He is not known, however, as a fight­er against the kind of feder­al bureaucratic waste and corruption that benefits cor­porations.

For example, he remain­ed silent on Pentagon waste totaling billions of dollars and the unconscionable tax­payer subsidy to giant agri­business. But oh, how indig­nant he can wax against an inflation-and-waste-fighting consumer protection agen­cy that would represent the forgotten American con­sumer in Washington.

The projected three-year budget for this agency is $60 million to save consumers and taxpayers billions of dollars. The government shells out more than $60 million in tax subsidies every four days to the oil industry, and the Pentagon spends this amount in six hours.

WHAT EMERGES from a closer observation of Allen’s performance is the presence of a ruthless par­liamentarian fighting against legislative compas­sion and justice in the polite guise of a small-town con­servative. He can always be counted on to oppose senatorial attempts at curb­ing the vast power of indus­try over ordinary citizens.

Allen’s power in the Sen­ate, such as it is, stems not only from big business sup­port like Exxon and GM but also from the weakness of the liberal majority. By their absenteeism from the Senate floor, their lack of close knowledge of the Sen­ate’s rules and the absence of decisive policy leader­ship, many liberals manage to carry their majority into defeat all too often:

When the consumer bill comes to the Senate floor in April, it will be interesting to see if the liberals can master the legislative craftsmanship of their con­victions.