Ralph Nader says that the greed of multinational corporations has no bounds.
We’re not big into absolutes — no bounds? — but what’s going on in California this election year makes us wonder.
Big business interests in California have funded an initiative — Proposition 64 — that, if passed, would effectively gut California’s unfair competition law.
The law is a landmark consumer protection law that stops unfair, deceptive or unlawful conduct.
It was first enacted in the 1930s to stop businesses from using unfair practices to gain an advantage over their competitors.
The law now has a broader reach — it is intended to protect consumers by addressing the general societal harm that results when business enterprises act illegally or unethically.
Any member of the general public can bring a case under the law.Consumer, civil rights and environmental groups bring cases to stop unfair and fraudulent practices they identify.
If Proposition 64 passes, only people who have been directly injured or suffered financial or property losses could file lawsuits against a business for unfair practices or false advertising.
Claims on behalf of a larger group of injured people would have to meet stringent requirements for class-action lawsuits and be approved and certified by a judge. Only the California attorney general or local government prosecutors would be authorized to sue on behalf of the public.
Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer rights says that the proposition would make most unfair business practices cases nearly impossible to bring.
He says that the conditions imposed by initiative would have prevented many important lawsuits from being filed, including ones to stop misleading advertising of breakfast cereals to children, fraudulent marketing of prescription drugs, dangerously high-levels of lead in stomach medications, deceptive HMO marketing, and elder abuse.
All of the major public interest groups in California are opposing the initiative. (www.noonprop64.org). None of them are supporting it.
Big business has raised $15 million to pass the initiative into law.
There is $100,000 from Phillip Morris, $200,000 from State Farm, $1.5 million from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, $100,000 from Bank of America, $365,000 from Blue Cross of California, $300,000 from Intel, $150,000 from Microsoft, $217,000 from Pfizer. You get the idea.
The big business web site pushing the initiative(www.stopshakedownlawsuits.com) highlights small business owners who have been shaken down by crooked attorneys.
Heller says that there are three or four law firms in California who are unscrupulous in using the state unfair competition law. But the Attorney General has put one of them out of business, and the others are on the run.
The terminator governor of the state, Arnold Schwarzenegger, came out earlier this year in favor of the proposition.
“Proposition 64 will stop the legal practice of shakedown lawsuits, in which private lawyers file suits without any client or any evidence of harm,” Schwarzenegger said at the time. “This turns lawyers into bounty hunters, stalking innocent small businesses that create jobs and opportunity in California.”
But in fact, Schwarzenegger himself has sued under the law over the use of his image in ads and bobblehead dolls.
He favors the law to protect his own terminator image, but not to protect California consumers?
With the polls showing the Proposition losing by 15 points, Schwarzenegger is low-balling his support.
While most of the newspapers in California understand that big business is once again trying to scam the California public, we can’t figure out the Los Angeles Times.
On August 17, the Times ran an editorial opposed to the initiative. In it, the Times said that the proposition would “strip away protections intended to keep predatory businesses from abusing consumers.”
Then, earlier this month, the Times changed its tune and came out in favor of Prop 64.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer wrote a letter to the Times denouncing the paper’s irrational reversal. In it, Lockyer said that “in reversing course and endorsing Proposition 64, The Times bought a fiction peddled by proponents.”
“Proposition 64 would shackle citizens trying to protect themselves and the public from environmental degradation and invasions of privacy,”Lockyer wrote. “The polluters and personal information traders who have bankrolled Proposition 64 say ‘no problem. The attorney general and local prosecutors can step in and fill the void.’ I’m the attorney general. I know that is a falsehood. My office and local prosecutors aggressively enforce consumer and environmental protection laws. But we cannot do the job alone. That’s why citizen enforcement always has played a crucial role.”
Proposition 64 is a boon to corporate criminals.
If you live in California, vote against it.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of CorporatePredators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe,Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org).
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman