By Bitsy Skerry
The office of U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) held a webinar in September titled, “Fighting Corruption: Corporate Capture of the Regulatory Process,” spotlighting corporate domination of the regulatory process and the congresswoman’s proposed legislative solution to this problem.
The webinar featured insights from experts in the field of administrative law who explained how Rep. Jayapal’s Stop Corporate Capture Act (H.R. 6107) begins to address the most egregious problems plaguing our federal system of public protections. The conversation closed with a Q&A session for the panelists.
Lisa Heinzerling, the Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, started the conversation by discussing the problems created by the White House’s review of regulations that protect the public. “Presidents have required agencies in developing significant rules to get approval from the White House,” Heinzerling said.
The White House office responsible for the review of proposed and final agency rules that protect workers, consumers, public health, and the environment is the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the most important office in government you’ve probably never heard of.
Heinzerling explained how corporate-friendly cost-benefit analysis, regulations being held up for political reasons, and the “behind closed doors” meetings at OIRA (with industry and corporate lobbyists being the main participants) create a regulatory review process that is neither transparent nor in the public interest.
“The Stop Corporate Capture Act takes on some of these problems in a dramatic way,” Heinzerling explained. For example, Jayapal’s bill would for the first time establish an Office of the Public Advocate charged with helping members of the public participate more effectively in the rulemaking process. This will ensure that consumers, workers, and members of the public who benefit from regulations can have a seat at the table and not just corporate special interests.
The bill also establishes deadlines for OIRA review of rules to decrease the number of delayed regulations and increases the transparency of the White House regulatory review process.
David Michaels, epidemiologist and professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health, also spoke at the event and explained how the lack of disclosure of conflicts of interest in scientific and technical studies undermines the integrity of the rulemaking process. Michaels discussed the “funding effect,” which is when financial interests that seek to oppose or weaken regulations that protect the public influence the results of scientific or technical research and studies by funding them.
He applauded how the Stop Corporate Capture Act provides for conflict-of-interest disclosures comparable to those required by scientific and medical journals, so agencies and the public know when research or studies have been tainted by corporate influence.
“Major science and medical journals say if a sponsor of a study (i.e., an oil or chemical company) has a role in how it’s written, these journals won’t even publish it,” said Michaels. “The journal has to say the company had no control over the results.”
Finally, James Goodwin, senior policy analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform, highlighted how the Stop Corporate Capture Act “is the first comprehensive progressive regulatory bill [he has] ever seen… and probably the first ever.” Goodwin provided a historical timeline of the regulatory system in the U.S. and compared it to where the country stands today.
“At the turn of the 20th century, we see modern regulatory systems develop, and it looks a lot like today,” said Goodwin. He explained how the government was corrupt, not responsive to the public’s needs, and had a business-friendly judiciary in the face of widespread economic inequality, much like present-day.
“The Stop Corporate Capture Act helps move the regulatory system to its fuller democratic principle,” he added.