In the weeks leading up to his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama was surely inundated with reports, requests, and letters from various advocacy groups urging him to not only adopt their platform, but to make it a priority for his second term. Among those that have weighed in are eight consumer advocacy organizations who are jointly urging the President and Congress to adopt “strong, robust” consumer-focused policies.[i] Their initiatives include making healthcare affordable, ensuring food, consumer, and medical products are safe, reinstating and protecting access to the courts, and ensuring open markets by enforcing antitrust laws.
But the pro-consumer messages have to fight hard to be heard over their big business counterparts, who have more money, clout, and leverage. In the last quarter of 2012, pro-business lobbying spending soared as the election and impending fiscal cliff were forefront in the news. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the country’s largest business advocacy group) spent over $125 million on lobbying in 2012, an 88% increase from 2011. Its agenda includes obtaining legal reform that “stand[s] up for American business in the courts, … and ensure[s] damage awards are fair and equitable,” and minimizing the use of Section 5 of the FTC Act (which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts affecting commerce).[ii]
Consumers are, and will always be, the underdog in the lobbying battle with big business. This makes private enforcement all the more important to help push the pro-consumer platform in the courts while progress is slowly made in Congress towards a more level playing field. Indeed, many of our cases implicate more than one important pro-consumer initiative. We seek to promote competition and keep healthcare affordable by making generic drugs available earlier and punishing brand companies for using unlawful tactics to delay competition. We do our best to hold companies accountable for selling defective medical products, causing consumers and their insurers to rack up enormous but entirely avoidable medical bills (not to mention the painful physical damage these products cause). We challenge pro forma arbitration clauses that deprive consumers of access to the courts while minimizing liability for unscrupulous business practices.
We aren’t the only ones fighting the good fight. A number of our colleagues share both our vision and resolve. Perhaps it is a testament to our effectiveness that the Chamber feels compelled to spend $125 million in a single year to try to defeat us. It’s a big waste of money, firms like Wexler Wallace aren’t going away.
Photo Credit: Blatantworld.com
[i] Cheryl Bolen, Public Interest Groups Ask Obama to Adopt Consumer-Friendly Policies, Bloomberg Law (Feb. 4, 2013). The following groups sent President Obama and Congressional leaders joint letters: Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumers League, National Consumer Law Center, Public Citizen, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.