Last January, Jimmy Carter said, “I would like to be known as the foremost protector of consumers.” Well, he now has a Presidential opportunity to defend the health, safety and economic rights of the biggest group in America from the ravages of monopoly, market chicanery, product hazards and the corporate-indentured agencies of government. Based on what he has declared and his record as governor, Carter looks like good news for consumers. He told me that one of his biggest disappointments as governor was the refusal of the state legislature to pass his consumer protection bill. Gov. Carter also came out strongly in support o student-funded and operated public interest groups which have consumer protection as a high priority.
In August, in Washington, D.C., he was asked about the consumer protection agency legislation that the Nixon-Ford White House adn the big business lobbysists had opposed so strenuously. He replied, “if I am elected President, I hope it will be one of the first bills passed during the next administration.”
THERE WAS APPLAUSE from the audience composed heavily of consumer, environmental and other civic groups. But Carter did not stop there. “Access to the President from groups represented here today is crucial,” he continued. “Too often in the past the White House is . . open to those who are powerful and influential, but was not open to those who spoke for the average citizen. That ought to he changed and it will be changed if I should be elected President.”
These are unique words even for a Presidential candidate and the oral emphasis he gave them was even rarer. He has coupled with this point about White House access a determination to appoint qualified and sensitive people to the regulatory agencies — the kind of people who care about people.
There are other long overdue consumer proposals with substantial support in Congress that have gotten nowhere during the Nixon-Ford years. One is to permit consumers to file consumer class actions in federal courts without having the serious roadblocks and expenses that recent Supreme Court decisions have required them to overcome. Carter will support this self-help consumer legislation to open the doors of the federal courts so that these consumer rights can be judged on their merits.
RECOGNIZING THAT there are millions of Americans every year who cannot afford to obtain justice for their consumer grievances —relating to food, autos, drugs, medical, housing, repair service, etc. — Carter wants to help set up ”enhanced informal grievance settlement machinery, mediation and arbitration, and available, convenient small claims systems (courts).” Due to the efforts of Sen. Warren Magnuson, a bill is waiting for him in Congress entitled the “Consumer Controversies Resolution Act.”
A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal featured an article on Carter and the business community. One thrust of the article was that although he makes populist statements, the business people in Atlanta advise that he will not upset business with his Presidential stands. After all, it was implied, he didn’t particularly ruffle them as governor.
But Carter is also known as a very stubborn man when it comes to being overly and directly pressured against his convictions. The issue then is whether his convictions can be overridden by institutional and indirect showdowns like corporations wildly stating they will lay off workers or hike prices if environmental, worker safety or consumer justice politics or enforcements are pursued.
Carter says he stood firm against the paper mill companies in Georgia when they tried that tactic to escape from air pollution controls. He will he tested soon with this tactic by the auto industry after he assumes the Presidency.
No matter how pro-consumer. Carter’s inclinations may be, he will need a consumer movement backbone to help in his struggles against corporate interests that do not resnect consumer laws and the health and safety rights of the people.
Readers who wish to learn of Carter’s consumer position paper during the recent campaign should write to President-elect Carter, Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C. for a copy. A broader report of Carter’s ‘positions on many subjects is available for $1.50 from the non-profit Capitol Hill News Service, 968 National Press Bldg., Wash., D.C. 20045.