Consumer Road Show by Ralph Nader

Dandelion Salad

by Ralph Nader
Friday, May 30. 2008

William J. Baroody Jr. couldn’t have done better by the consumer movement that he so strenuously op­poses.

As the President’s as­sistant for public liaison, Baroody is the coordinator of a series of regional White House conferences this month on proposed federal departmental consumer representation plans in major cities around the country.

Both the plans and the conferences have been vari­ously denounced as waste­ful, window dressing, elec­tioneering and bureaucratic by consumer groups, local officials and editorials.

At each conference — Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, Atlanta and other cities — aroused consumer orga­nizations turned out to expose this transparent attempt to counteract Ford’s determination to veto the long-needed con­sumer protection agency recently passed by Congress.

Nothing could have so quickly coalesced consumer sentiment against the Ford administration than this amalgam of jet-set road‑ showers from Washington and their local business supporters, like Sears in Chicago, who wined and dined them before the day’s unsuccessful attempt to brainwash the local popu­lace.

How did this backfire occur? About a year ago, a group of Ford’s advisers de­cided that the consumer bill must be opposed at all costs.

Too many big corpora­tions. GM, Ford, Procter & Gamble, Greyhound, J.C. Penney, Exxon — were against any legislation that would establish a consumer agency with the expertise and authority to challenge or take to court the federal agencies which buckled under so often to that same big business pressure.

These advisers real­ized, however, that consum­er protection at a time of rising food, fuel, utility and housing prices could not be ignored.

So first they tried to smear the proposed con­sumer agency as “another layer of bureaucracy” that would add to the federal budget. Then they devised a presidential directive on .April 17, 1975, to federal de­partments regarding a re­view of their “policies and procedures as they affect consumer representation in agency decision-making.”

On Nov. 26, a bulging Federal Register appeared with the proposed consumer representation plans for 17 departments. Filled with make-words and classic bu­reaucratic blahs, these proposals envisioned more paper shuffling, slick titles such as “consumer affairs coordinator” and assorted paraphernalia of this cos­metic consumer circus.

Questions such as what independent authority to take on the particular de­partment would be given to these consumer affairs of­fices, or whether such of­fices could take their departments to court, went ignored.

In the Department of Housing and Urban Devel­opment, consumer com­plaints were to be answered promptly and used to evalu­ate program purposes. Nothing was said about re­dressing the many legitimate complaints.

On the road this month, Baroody, his entourage Virginia Knauer, her entourage, and Cabinet secretaries and representa­tives of 17 departments were rushing from city to city.

At the conferences and workshops, President Ford’s name was invoked at every opportunity. Unmen­tioned was Ford’s refusal to speak to any consumer group while addressing SO industry groups in the past year.

But, excepting the emis­saries from business or re­gional federal employees, the White House’s strategy didn’t wash.

The Boston Globe editori­ally advised the public to “have no part of it.” The Wall Street Journal criti­cized the road trip as a per­version of Ford’s alleged interest in reducing bu­reaucracy.

Richard Borten, execu­tive director of the city of Boston’s Consumers’ Coun­cil, called the Ford confer­ences “an expensive hoax aimed at New England con­sumers.”

Consumer groups in Chicago and Boston pre­pared a “baloney and crumbs luncheon” to sym­bolize their rejection of the conferences’ purposes.

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