Robert Weissman on Tue, 7 Apr 1998 19:50:06 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> The Corporate Takeover of a Consumer Group

[Original to <>.-T]

It used to be that you could tell where big corporations were coming from
because they would speak through aptly named lobbying groups. 

But then, about twenty years ago, corporations wised up and realized that
no citizen was going to take seriously the proclamations of the Tobacco
Institute or the Business Roundtable. 

So, big corporations decided to try new ways to delude the public. They
set up or helped fund think tanks (American Enterprise Institute, Hudson
Institute), they set up front groups (Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse,
Electric Consumers Association), and they funded public interest
organizations (World Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund). 

But never has corporate America been so bold as to take over an existing
consumer group. Until now. 

The National Consumers League, founded by labor and consumer activists at
the turn of the century, calls itself "America's pioneer consumer advocacy

While the League does some good work on child labor issues, it has been
saturated in recent years with financial contributions from major U.S.
corporations to the point where it can no longer be considered a
legitimate independent consumer or public interest group. 

While refusing to give specific numbers detailing how much money each
corporation or industry has contributed, League officials say that 39
percent of the group's 1997 budget of $1.3 million came from corporations
and industry associations. 

All indications are that a far greater percentage of the League's current
1998 budget is flooding in from corporate America. And the League is
planning on an unprecedented shakedown of the corporate money tree for its
planned upcoming 100th anniversary bash next year. 

Almost every current project, seminar, brochure, newsletter and
fundraising dinner is sponsored in large part by major corporations or
industry associations, with some supplemental money coming in from labor

For example, an upcoming conference, Focus on Youth: The New Consumer
Power, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida May 5-8, 1998, is sponsored in large
part by a coalition of major corporations that traditionally have been
hostile to consumer interests, including Visa USA, the Chemical
Specialties Manufacturers Association, the Chlorine Chemistry Council,
Monsanto, General Motors, Burson- Marsteller, and the National Meat

An April 1997 conference titled "Health Care: How Do Consumers Manage?"
was sponsored by major pharmaceutical and health care companies, including
Bristol-Myers, Glaxo Wellcome, Pfizer, Wyeth-Ayerst Labs, Kaiser
Permanente, Merck, PacifiCare Health Systems, SmithKline Beecham, and
Pharmacia & Upjohn. Big labor unions are also listed as contributors to
the conference. 

An Internet Fraud Watch program is being sponsored by MasterCard and

The annual "NCL Trumpeter Award Reception and Dinner" brings in about 40
percent of the League's annual budget. Last year, the League honored Carol
Tucker Foreman, a public relations executive, and Liz Claiborne Inc., a
clothing manufacturer that has been tied most recently to sweatshops in
China. One of three top contributors to the dinner was Liz Claiborne. The
other two were Allstate Insurance and Wyeth-Ayerst. 

The next five top contributors were AT&T, Edison Electric Institute,
Monsanto Company, Schering Plough, and Visa USA. 

Earlier this month, the League co-sponsored with the Electric Consumers'
Alliance a conference titled "Restructuring of the Electric Industry: What
is the Impact?" The Alliance is a front group for the Edison Electric

The League refused to answer questions about who paid for this conference,
or exactly how much money corporations are paying to sponsor the League's
various conferences and programs. 

The League's executive director, Linda Golodner, did not return repeated
phones calls over a three week period seeking comment on this article. 

But a walk through the League's downtown Washington, D.C. office reminds a
visitor of the pervasive influence of corporate America over the League's

Almost every consumer publication in the League's front office was paid
for by a major corporation or industry group. 

A "Consumer Guide to Choosing Your Telephone Service" was paid for by

A "Consumer Credit Series" of reports (Shopping for a Loan? How Much Is It
Going to Cost?, Denied Credit? -- The Credit Report Blues) was paid for by
Fleet Finance Inc, a subsidiary of Fleet Financial Group. 

A brochure titled "Making Sense of Your New Communications Choices" was
paid for by GTE. 

A pamphlet titled "Take Care with Over the Counter Asthma Medicine" was
paid for by Syntex, a pharmaceutical company. 

A newsletter, "Community Credit Link," is paid for by Visa USA. 

The League refused to answer specific questions about how much money
corporations are giving to support these various projects, or what
percentage of the League's budget comes from non-corporate funders. 

When asked why a consumer group is taking any money at all from
corporations that fight consumer interests in Washington, D.C. and around
the country, League spokesperson Cleo Manuel said "I wish we didn't have

Any group that lives off the Chlorine Chemistry Council, Monsanto, or
General Motors should be shunned. 

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor.

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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