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Obama’s Rumored Choice for Justice Department Post Has Long History of Working Against Consumer Rights

Feb. 2, 2009

Obama’s Rumored Choice for Justice Department Post Has Long History of Working Against Consumer Rights

Public Citizen Urges Obama to Nominate an Individual Who Has Demonstrated a Greater Commitment to the Public Interest

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Obama’s reported choice to head the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) main policymaking unit has a long record of championing laws to shield corporations from accountability at the expense of ordinary Americans, Public Citizen said in a report released today.

The report, along with a letter sent to Obama, raises concerns about the lobbying activities of the prospective nominee, Mark Gitenstein, who is reportedly in line to head the DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy. Gitenstein has served as a registered lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several other corporate clients for whom he has consistently lobbied for measures to reduce corporate accountability.

Since the mid-1990s, Gitenstein has lobbied for a law that made it more difficult to hold businesses and their auditing firms liable for false earnings predictions; a measure that would have dulled the government’s primary tool to penalize and deter fraud by contractors; and a law aimed at reducing consumers’ ability to pursue class action lawsuits.

Further, some of Gitenstein’s most recent work appears to conflict with Obama’s newly announced ethics policy prohibiting executive branch employees from working in “issue areas” on which they lobbied in the past two years. Gitenstein lobbied on “legal reform issues” for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2007 and 2008. This topic is fundamentally intertwined with the Office of Legal Policy’s responsibilities, which include formulating Justice Department policy on those very issues and advising the president on judicial nominations.

“Someone who spent years fighting corporate accountability and working to undermine the legal rights of ordinary Americans should never have a place in a key Justice Department policy position,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “But particularly not with the economy reeling from corporate misconduct and unaccountability. The nation needs a new direction, and the nation voted for a new direction. Voters do not want a continuation of the failed policies of the past eight years – placing corporations above the law and putting foxes in charge of henhouses.”