Bush Nomination of Baroody All Wrong for Consumers

April 2007

President Bush would be hard-pressed to find a more inappropriate nominee to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) than Michael Baroody. Baroody is Bush’s recent choice to head the government agency charged with protecting consumers from dangerous products, but has spent the past decade lobbying to undermine consumer rights.

As the head of outreach efforts for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Baroody spearheaded both federal and state campaigns to curtail the regulatory agencies and to deny consumers access to the legal system.[1]   Baroody’s efforts show that he does not believe that corporate wrongdoers should ever be held accountable. He is a staggeringly wrong-headed choice to head a consumer safety agency. 

This brief analysis highlights two areas of Baroody and NAM’s activities that demonstrate why Baroody is an exceedingly poor choice for the CPSC.   The first is that Baroody and NAM have actively worked to shut down consumer access to the courts in efforts to hold negligent corporations accountable for harm.

The second reason that Baroody is ill-suited to head the CPSC is that his activities at NAM have been highly partisan, including deep involvement in Republican politics.  The role of CPSC Chair demands that someone be able to work across the aisle to draft and implement safety regulations, and determine the scope and impact of enforcement actions.

It appears that Bush intends to make this position a reward for a loyal ideologue who worked to elect Republicans to office. Using such an important position for patronage is totally inappropriate. Baroody is totally unqualified for this position.  Like so many Bush Administration officials, his primary qualification is his loyalty to the president. But he is totally unqualified for this office and is not well-suited for a role negotiating among varied interests, including consumer safety groups.

Baroody’s nomination reflects an arrogant Administration attempt to further gut the already moribund CPSC by filling positions designed for public-minded honest brokers with the Administration’s corporate cronies. His nomination should be rejected.

NAM and Baroody’s Assault on Consumer Access to the Courts

As head of NAM’s lobbying, Baroody oversaw NAM’s efforts to:[2]

  • Eliminate or severely limit medical malpractice remedies;
  • Limit the ability of consumers to use class action lawsuits to seek redress;
  • Prevent government agencies from pursuing legal cases against companies that engage in harmful activities; and
  • Shield corporations from liability for damages caused by unsafe products and practices.

These activities are no secret.  The NAM Web site trumpets its activities to limit access to the legal system.

  • Baroody, in his role as the chair of NAM’s Asbestos Alliance, which is campaigning for federal legislation that would close off judicial relief for asbestos victims, wrote a letter to the Financial Times in 2006 pushing for “getting out of the tort system and into a privately funded, no-fault administrative process” as the only solution to asbestos liability issues.[3]
  • NAM runs a program that files briefs in state and federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court.[4] NAM claims it has brought suit and filed briefs in “more than 20 significant cases every year, and more than 40 in 2003!”[5]
  • In New York in 2006, NAM filed a joint brief on an appeal, arguing for limits on disclosure to plaintiffs in a tire failure case.[6]
  • In Florida in 2006, NAM filed a joint brief in defense of Big Tobacco.[7]
  • In Mississippi in 2007, in a case involving possible exposure to the highly toxic chemical beryllium, NAM filed a joint brief pushing to disallow any claims for medical monitoring from employees of Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center and California’s Canoga Park.[8]
  • NAM maintains a Legal Policy Issues Committee that reaches its member companies and their employees and includes an issues litmus test that ranks members of Congress.[9]
  • NAM chaired the American Justice Partnership, a coalition of associations and front groups seeking to curb access to state courts through legislation and legal action, sway public opinion on legal issues, and elect candidates at all levels who oppose legal access.[10]

With Baroody at the helm of the CPSC, consumers would no longer have any support to hold corporations accountable for violations of federal regulations.  After having worked to shut down access to the courtroom, Baroody would wield the gavel at the CPSC and surely would work to weaken its power and authority, leaving consumers with no remedy.

NAM and Baroody: Partisan Electioneering Shows Clear Tilt to Right

NAM’s advocacy efforts include a wide-ranging strategy to influence elections, efforts that involved work by Baroody.    In conjunction with the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) and other groups, NAM helps to run the “Prosperity Project,” an effort to elect pro-business candidates.[11]

In 2004, NAM teamed up with the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) to contact 20 million voters, NAM said.[12] The Prosperity Project also conducted a massive voter registration drive. NAM officials boasted that they registered 700,000 to 800,000 new voters.[13] “We can do better than labor” at informing voters, Baroody said of the business groups’ efforts to turn out more supporters than unions at the polls.[14]

NAM also ranked candidates on the degree to which they toed the association’s line.[15] The group distributed its materials to more than 900 companies, associations and other organizations through e-mails, brochures, and Web sites.[16] 

A strong partisan current runs through NAM’s rankings. Take, for example, NAM’s assessments of members of the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Insurance, and Automotive Safety, which will conduct Baroody’s nomination hearings.

NAM rated the committee members and other lawmakers on votes concerning class action law suits, gun liability and the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito.[17] Four of the six Democratic senators who remain on the subcommittee received less than 50 percent cumulative rankings, including Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who received a score of zero.

NAM and company officials routinely billed its 2004 campaign as a neutral voter education effort, but their claims don’t hold up.[18] “This is not nonpartisan, evenhanded campaign material,” University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs told the Sacramento Bee in 2004 in reference to literature distributed by companies and associations.[19] “It’s material that’s subtly but clearly promoting one candidate at the expense of another.” While Baroody told the National Review that NAM did not endorse candidates, Baroody described 2004 Democratic nominees John Kerry and John Edwards as being “virtually in a league by themselves,” in terms of their credibility gap with manufacturers.[20]

NAM also has been a frequent contributor to Republican-oriented 527 groups, giving more than $25,000 since 2000, according to the Center for Public Integrity.[21]   The biggest beneficiary was the Republican Governors Association, which received a little more than $10,000. Another $9,000 went to a since-disbanded state-level 527 associated with former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

NAM spent more than $50 million since 1998 to lobby members of Congress and federal agencies on issues of importance to its members.[22] Those efforts have included lobbying on the reauthorization of the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2005 and 2006, and on legislation pertaining to Commission penalties in 2003, according to registrations on file with the Secretary of the Senate.[23]

Endnotes


[1] NAM - Biography of Michael E. Baroody. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/sec_leadership_detail.asp?CID=202659&DID=237938 , downloaded on March 15, 2007.) and NAM - Bottom-Line Policy Achievements for Manufacturers. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/doc1.asp?CID=4&DID=201889 , Downloaded March 30, 2007.)

[2] NAM - The NAM Legal Reform Agenda. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/doc1.asp?CID=202331&DID=234995&rcss=print , downloaded March 28, 2007.)

[3] Michael Baroody, “Letters to The Editor: Time Is Running Out, But Congress Can Still Find A Comprehensive National Solution to Asbestos Crisis,” Financial Times, July 31, 2006. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/doc1.asp?CID=201946&DID=237235&rcss=print , Downloaded March 30, 2007.).

[4] NAM’s Amicus Program. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/doc1.asp?CID=38&DID=201410&rcss=print , downloaded March 28, 2007.)

[5] NAM’s Amicus Program. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/doc1.asp?CID=38&DID=201410&rcss=print , downloaded March 28, 2007.)

[6] NAM - Litigation Update – Current Case Activity in a Nutshell. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/doc1.asp?CID=38&DID=237660&rcss=print , downloaded on March 28, 2007.)

[7] NAM - Litigation Update – Current Case Activity in a Nutshell. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/doc1.asp?CID=38&DID=237660&rcss=print , downloaded on March 28, 2007.)

[8] NAM - Litigation Update – Current Case Activity in a Nutshell. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/doc1.asp?CID=38&DID=237660&rcss=print , downloaded on March 28, 2007.) and Paz v. Brush Engineered Materials, Inc., 949 So.2d 1, (Miss. 2007). (Available at www.mssc.state.ms.us/Images/HDList/..%5COpinions%5CCO38306.pdf .)

[9] NAM – Fair Litigation Action Group. (Available at www.nam.org/s_nam/sec.asp?CID=130&DID=128&rcss=print , downloaded March 28, 2007.)

[10] About the American Justice Partnership. (Available in PDF at www.nam.org/s_nam/bin.asp?CID=202506&DID=233306&DOC=FILE.PDF , downloaded on March 28, 2007.)

[11] “The Business of Getting Out the Vote,” Nightly Business Report, Oct. 22, 2004. and NAM Prosperity Project - About the Prosperity Project. (Available at www.bipac.net/page.asp?content=interm_p2&g=nam&parent=NAM,  downloaded on March 29, 2007.)

[15] NAM Prosperity Project - NAM’s Online Voting Record. (Available at www.bipac.net/page.asp?content=voting_records&g=NAM , downloaded on March 29, 2007.)

[16] NAM Prosperity Project - About the Prosperity Project. (Available at www.bipac.net/page.asp?content=interm_p2&g=nam&parent=NAM , downloaded on March 29, 2007.)

[21] Center for Public Integrity, “Silent Partners.” (Public Citizen Search of www.publicintegrity.org/527   database on March 29, 2007.)

[23]Id.