Ford Avoids Consumer Groups

Mike Horrocks is a patient man. He has to be. For as the major domo of our Public Citizen Forum, he invites high government officials to appear and then waits for their response.

He invited Jimmy Carter and after some waiting the Democrats’ candidate came, spoke and answered questions at the Forum on August 9. Horrocks also had invited President Ford and was pleased to receive a letter from Presidential Press Secretary Ron Nessen on the same day, August 9. Nessen wrote: “The President has asked me to thank you for your recent invitation to speak at a Public Citizen Forum sometime in the future. The President, of course, agrees that it is important for public officials, particularly the President, to speak to and answer questions from audiences made up of members of the general public . . . If you have a specific

speaking date to which you would like to invite the President, we would be most happy to consider the invitation.”

Horrocks wrote Nessen on August 11 suggesting any of six days in September for what promised to be an interesting two-hour forum a few blocks from the White House.

On August 23, Nessen’s office phoned Horrocks, saying “It looks good” and final word would soon be forthcoming. A week later, Nessen’s secretary called to say that the matter “has high priority” and would Horrocks call back in a few days. He did and was asked to call back in another few days, which he did, and then was asked to call back in three days.

Finally, on Sept. 14, Nessen’s office said that due to the President’s crowded schedule he could not speak at the Forum

This is not the first time that President Ford has not found time to meet with consumer-oriented groups Yet he has repeatedly found much time to speak to business gatherings, both in and away from Washington.

While turning down invitations to speak to two annual conventions in Washington of the Consumer Federation of America — the most promising consumer group gathering of the year — Mr. Ford has spent days speaking to business and industry conventions around the nation.

In Washington, for example, he has spoken to the Business Council, the Chamber of Commerce twice, the National Association of Food Chains, the Associated General Contractors, and the American Retail Federation, to name a few.

The significance of President Ford’s choice of audiences is in President Ford’s choice of priorities. His administration has been one of big business, for big business, and by big business. Former corporate executives dominate one agency or department after another.

He prefers business audiences over consumer audiences because his policies toward Congress and within the executive branch have been strenuously antagonistic to consumer rights and consumer justice.

The Ford Administration has opposed important consumer protection legislation as well as self-help legislation for consumer class actions, consumer cooperative credit, and citizen rights to challenge in court government illegality and governmental irresponsibility.

During the unfairly maligned WIN program to fight inflation in the fall of 1974, Mr. Ford met with groups at the White House which included consumer representatives. But after this slight crack in the doorway, he returned to the Nixon-style isolation from the viewpoints of the consumer and environmental movements.

The price of receiving only the business or bureaucratic viewpoints was made clear to President Ford in -recent weeks as he frantically tried to forge a policy regarding plutonium reprocessing in this country and atomic arms proliferation abroad which have been stimulated by the sale of nuclear plants.

He was finally reacting to Jimmy Carter’s position of concern about this perilous trend.

Mr. Ford, however, could have urged these safeguards much earlier but he chose not to meet with a number of prominent scientists critical of atomic power hazards who could have given him this vital information so routinely downplayed by his pro-nuclear advisers.

Although both Frank Zarb, the federal energy chief, and White House aide Roderick Hills told me last year that the meeting would occur, the White House, after much delay, said no.

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