March 26, 2008

The CPSC Is A Series Of Tubes! Even When He Loses, Ted Stevens Wins

A couple of weeks ago, Congress took major, nearly unprecedented steps to strengthen the Consumer Products Safety Commission by increasing its budget, but also by giving it greater punitive and regulatory powers. The CPSC Reform Act tightened safety regulations on toys, increased the cap on manufacturer fines, called for third-party safety testing, and set up a public database of consumer complaints and defect reports. Industry groups lobbied hard to derail the bill, or at least defang it. But when I compared the manufacturers' list of "onerous provisions" disseminated as talking points by Senator Jim DeMint's office [R-SC], the successful bill looked to me like a self-regulating laissez faire toy exec's worst nightmare. From their perspective, they were screwed, practically drowning in onerousness.

And yet, from a tipster who belongs to the JPMA, comes this almost celebratory invitation from an industry group for a fundraiser, what amounts to an after-the-fact thank you for Sen. Ted Stevens [R-AK], who is a great friend of industry. [So great a friend, in fact, that he's under FBI investigation for getting some of his giant, corporate friends renovate his house. I mean, seriously, what are friends for, am I right? Different story. Anyway.]

The invite to the $2500/head breakfast ["$1,500 PAC, $1,000 Personal"] read:

Please see the attached. As you can see, Dave Russell from Bryan Cave Strategies, [i.e., lobbyists] who you met during our Washington Fly-In last fall [i.e., lobbying], is hosting a breakfast this morning for Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. As a good friend to the juvenile products industry who was very helpful to our cause in negotiating some onerous provisions out of the Senate version of the CPSC Reauthorization Bill, and as somebody who will continue to be very influential as the compromise version that will be sent to the President is negotiated in committee, Dave has asked that I circulate this request for financial support for the Senator. It would be extremely beneficial to our cause if we could generate a few checks from each of the major companies if possible. Anything you can do would be EXTREMELY helpful. Senator Stevens was and is our guy and is very instrumental in these matters.

Thank you in advance for your ongoing support.

Regards,

Mike

[Emphasis added for dramatic effect, but the ALL CAPS are ALL THEIRS]

Beyond the sheer, depressing awesomeness of a US Senator being described as, "a good friend of the juvenile products industry" and "[he] was and is our guy," I wondered what, exactly, Stevens had done to earn such industrial-scale love. So I put in a call to Consumers Union, and had a chat with Ami Gadhia, who covered the CPSC bill through every step of the process, and who was able to flag at least four onerous provisions that did, in fact, get tossed from the bill. Onerous to the companies, that is:

  • Reducing the increase in the cap for civil penalties from $100 million back down to $10 million [$20 million with aggravating circumstances]. Though the CPSC has never reached it, the previous cap on fines was $1.8 million. Frankly, the $100mm number sounds over-inflated for negotiation purposes, but anyway.
  • The ability of state attorneys general to sue and enforce CPSC regulations was dialed down a bit. Originally, AG's were to be permitted to sue for monetary damages and sue for injunctions. Now they are only able to file suit after notifying the CPSC, and then only if the CPSC doesn't do anything about the product hazards in question. Companies were worried that politically ambitious AG's would go after sweet, innocent companies just to score points with the voters. This section was called the 'Spitzer Provision,' which is pretty damn funny now, and not just in the way the trade-fat-checks-for-favors crowd thinks it is.
  • Companies' own pre-existing labs will count as "independent testing". I know, right?
  • Whistleblowers don't get a cut of the damages associated with their whistling. On the bright side, they can't be retaliated against as easily, or automatically fired.
  • Companies' right to sue the CPSC over recall notices was preserved. This was probably the biggest success the industry got, a preservation of the status quo. It forces the CPSC to negotiate any product recall notice with the safety-violating company; companies can sue the CPSC if they didn't agree with the scope of the recall. It's an effective club that's kept the CPSC in line, and companies didn't want to lose it.

    Industry talking points, as publicized and rebutted by consumer groups [consumersunion.org]
    Senate passes CPSC Reform Act [consumerreports.org]

  • 1 Comment

    Nice. Thanks, Sen. Stevens, you crooked, on-the-take bastard!

    Seriously, If we EVER needed proof that the way our govt operates is broken, would this not be it?

    A govt employee taking money from an industry then works in favor of said industry while legislation about that industry is being made...

    They might call it 'lobbying', but in any business other than govt, I'm pretty sure it's called bribery.

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