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Veteran Consumer Advocate Announces Departure from Premier Public Interest Organization

Dec. 9, 2008

Veteran Consumer Advocate Announces Departure from Premier Public Interest Organization

Statement by Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen

Today I am announcing that I am stepping down as president of Public Citizen after 27 incredible years of leading this remarkable national public interest organization. 

During my tenure, we have achieved so much for the people of this nation. Every consumer in America has benefited from our advocacy work. I am proud that Public Citizen under my leadership has played such a significant role in Congress, in government agencies and in the courts to protect the public health, safety and democracy for everyone in the U. S. In the past 27 years, we have helped pass significant laws benefiting consumers, opened access to government information, enhanced congressional ethics and campaign reform, as well as stopped some of industry’s most egregious efforts to rollback public protections. Among our accomplishments:


  • Airbags are now standard equipment in all motor vehicles sold in the U.S., as well as in countries all over the world. Just in the U.S., they save almost 3,000 lives a year. Additionally, the federal government is being forced by our work to issue critically important vehicle safety standards to prevent rollover, upgrade roof strength and mitigate ejection (rollover crashes kill 10,800 people a year), improve tire safety and require transparency in auto industry dealings with the regulatory agency to protect the public against safety defects.


  • The expansion of dangerous triple-trailer trucks was stopped, limiting their operation to about a dozen, mostly western, states. 


  • Major changes in congressional ethics and lobbying requirements were adopted in 1995 and 2007 with our intense efforts, including a gift ban, limits on use of corporate aircraft and expansive reporting requirements.


  •    We helped to secure enactment of a major campaign finance reform bill that bans soft (unregulated) money that was often doled out in huge amounts to the political parties, as well as regulation of phony “issue ads” in political campaigns, and worked to assure it was found to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.


  • Legislation to tie the hands of government regulators was blocked. We played a pivotal role in 1995 in stopping – by one vote – the Gingrich/Dole bill that would have rolled back the ability of regulators to issue health, safety and environmental standards.


  • We were instrumental with our investigative research in defeating efforts by the super-rich to eliminate the estate tax, which would have cost the Treasury a trillion dollars. 


  • We fought for years to keep access to the courthouse door open for victims of product defects and medical malpractice by defeating, again and again, legislation to restrict damage awards.


  • Our litigation group has brought hundreds of public interest lawsuits in federal district and courts of appeal and in the U.S. Supreme Court, including achieving a landmark victory that preserves White House electronic records and assures electronic records (not just paper records) are available under the Freedom of Information Act.

Our efforts produced these and countless other victories.

I have led Public Citizen through many tumultuous times in our nation since 1982 and am leaving it now a strong and vibrant organization with a budget many times larger than I found it. I am so grateful to our many members and generous foundations that have supported and enhanced our work. I owe a debt of gratitude as well to the many members of Congress who have led the way and opinion leaders who have shared my passion to protect consumers and expose the wrongdoings of private and public entities.  

It has been my privilege to serve in this job. I leave it with great pride in all that the staff of Public Citizen and I have accomplished together and a strong awareness of all the work that remains to be done. As Louis Brandeis so appropriately said, “The only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of Citizen.” I have had the special opportunity to be a full-time citizen.

As the winds of change sweep the nation and Washington, D.C., with promises for new policies to help the public, it is a good time for me to move on to other adventures. I am excited about the new champions of the rule of law who will be leading this nation and the opportunities to use my skills and energy to advance consumer interests as well. I will continue to assist Public Citizen by serving on the board of directors and helping with the search for a new president. I will step down from my administrative duties on Jan. 31, 2009, but for several additional months will help prepare for the transition to a new president of Public Citizen. My work as president of Public Citizen is ending, but my work for a just society will never end.

Public Citizen has retained Ted Ford Webb of Boston, Mass., who is coordinating a nationwide search for the new president.