Groups Rate Attorney General Candidates on Corporate Crime, Consumer Protections and Environmental Issues

Nov.1

Groups Rate Attorney General Candidates on Corporate Crime, Consumer Protections and Environmental Issues

AUSTIN, Texas – Three consumer and environmental watchdog groups today released a report card on the platforms and performance of the candidates running for Texas attorney general. Kirk Watson ranked 91 percent of 100 (an A) while Greg Abbott received a score of 68 percent (a D+).

The groups, Clean Water Action, Public Citizen and Texas Watch, asked 20 questions of the two candidates. Candidate answers to the questions were graded as follows:

Watson   Abbott

Corporate crime

B

  C

Environment

A-

D-

Consumer protections

A+

C-

“The Texas Attorney General is the chief law enforcement authority in this state with the ability to be a strong protector and advocate for consumers against deceptive and dishonest business practices,” said Dan Lambe, executive director of Texas Watch. “At a time when corporations are defrauding investors, insurance companies have no effective rate regulations and Texas families have fewer and fewer consumer protection laws at their disposal, Texans need an attorney general who will make consumer protection a top priority, not an afterthought.”

Both candidates supported revoking the corporate charters of those companies that have committed corporate fraud and proposed new programs to reduce corporate abuses. But the candidates’ plans differ in their approach to controlling the insurance crisis. Watson has a fully developed plan for reforms and promises to advocate for reforms in the legislature. Abbott plans to enforce existing laws.

“If our current laws were strong enough to protect us, we wouldn’t have suffered as a result of corporate criminals, unscrupulous mold remediators, insurance companies and polluters who have no fear of penalty,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The platforms of both candidates reflect their beliefs that some changes need to be made to protect consumers. However, Watson’s proposals are much more far-reaching on almost every issue.”

Both candidates would take stronger action against polluters such as Alcoa and the more than dozen refineries that allegedly have illegally modified their plants and increased their emissions. Watson promises to prosecute environmental lawbreakers and ensure that penalties are big enough to deter pollution. Abbott says he will “sharpen and better focus environmental protection” and use administrative penalties.

Beach and river protections are critical issues facing the next attorney general. Watson promises to enforce the law and look at using the “public trust doctrine to protect natural resources” Abbott believes that the state has already encroached on private property rights of beach land owners but promises a ‘balanced’ approach to protecting access.

Watson supports the creation of an independent environmental advocate at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Abbott, meanwhile, said, “It is not clear that the public interest counsel has adequately protected consumer interests, so there is no clear track record to suggest the public interest counsel at TCEQ would better serve the public than regular commission staff.”

“Watson has a strong record as an environmental regulator and got good marks for his work on conservation and air quality in Austin,” said Dwayne “Sparky” Anderson of Clean Water Action. “Abbott has a mixed record as a judge on environmental issues. He wrote the decision that upheld an Austin ordinance ensuring that cities can protect their groundwater but ruled against an environmental whistleblower.”

The candidates’ responses on consumer protection issues also varied. Watson pledged to increase the effectiveness of the consumer protection division of the attorney general’s office. Abbott would maintain the status quo.

Watson said he would advocate solutions for chronic consumer problems at the state legislature. “I believe the role of the AG is to advocate on behalf of the people to the legislature to close the gaps and fill the loopholes that hurt Texas families. I will do this in the case of insurance and I will do this with any law that unfairly takes advantage of Texas families,” he said. By contrast, Abbott would take a much more passive role: “It is the role of the Legislature to close loopholes such as those described here,” he said.

The candidates followed the same pattern when answering the question of how they would confront the list of chronic complaints received by the attorney general’s office over the past 10 years. Direct mail advertising, used motor vehicle dealers, mortgage companies, credit reporting agencies, long-distance companies and landlord/tenant disputes continue to make the list year after year. Abbot pledged to prosecute Medicaid fraud, telemarketing scams and other crimes against the elderly. He also said he supports increased funding for the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and for strict enforcement of a “no call” list, as well as other consumer protections.

Watson pledged to devote more resources to enforce cases against companies that violate consumer laws and to staff the Consumer Protection Division with lawyers with proven commitments and records of achievement in dealing with consumer protection issues. He also said he would be proactive in analyzing and making recommendations to the legislature on ways to prevent consumer fraud.

“The main difference between these two candidates seems to be whether the AG’s office is supposed to just enforce the law or advocate for changes to protect consumers,” said Courtney Guynes, a researcher for Public Citizen. “Historically the AG’s office has pushed for reforms to protect consumers. As the chronic complaints and abuse of consumers demonstrates, Texas laws need to not just be enforced but strengthened to adequately protect consumers.”

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