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CAMPAIGN 2000

Nader Slams Rivals for Consumer Rights Record

August 11, 2000|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ralph Nader, whose campaign for consumer protections began long before his Green Party presidential bid, accused his Democratic and Republican competition Thursday of unfairly shielding corporations from consumer lawsuits and damage awards.

Nader promised to vigorously promote consumer rights in his third-party campaign, including a patient's right to sue an HMO.

In a position paper to be issued this morning, Nader faulted nearly every elected official and legislature in the United States for limiting the liability of negligent corporations, and he faulted several major industries for taking advantage of such protections.

Nader dismissed the tort reform efforts that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has promoted as Texas' governor, calling it tort "deform."

"Bush is the worst of the worst on this," Nader said. "You couldn't have anybody worse. He brags about it, he boasts about it, it's one of his top 10 issues."

Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan defended Bush's record, which has included legislation to cap punitive damages awarded in lawsuits. Bush has said that lawyers, not victims, profit unduly from such suits.

"The governor realizes that ultimately consumers are the ones that pay for frivolous and junk lawsuits in the form of higher prices for goods and services and higher insurance premiums," Sullivan said. "His view is that the system must have more balance and fairness built into it, and that balance and fairness is for plaintiffs, for consumers and for employers alike."

According to Nader, who dismissed the costs to consumers of liability suits as minimal, the Democrats have been no more supportive of consumers. He singled out President Clinton for signing legislation limiting lawsuits and Vice President Al Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, for his "passion to limit the liability of predatory corporations toward their injured or defrauded victims."

"He's got an obsession to immunize corporations," Nader said.

Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein countered that the senator has "a consumer protection and environmental protection record that is second to none." He credited Lieberman for a range of accomplishments, from controlling cable television rates to holding oil firms liable for spills.

"Ralph Nader's picking on one of his friends rather than doing what he does so well: challenging the polluters and corporations who take advantage of consumers," Gerstein said.

Nader, who for four decades has led public campaigns against corporate abuse, has also taken up rising California utility rates as an issue, citing the deregulation of utilities as the cause. He accused California's Legislature of bowing to utility and power companies by easing regulations on them in exchange for political donations.

Nader released a letter Thursday calling on Gore and Bush to support mandates for energy efficiency and renewable energy. He said he will focus on California's utility rates when he campaigns in the state Aug. 20-27.

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