The McConnell-Boehner Corporate Congress continues its broadside against the regulatory system next week, and Public Citizen will be in the mix. We’re testifying Monday afternoon at a hearing on several anti-consumer regulatory bills. Then the next day, lawmakers will grill the administration’s regulatory czar. Here are more details:

• At 4 p.m. on Monday, March 2, Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, will testify before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law on three anti-regulatory bills currently under consideration. They include the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2015 (RAPID Act), H.R. 348; the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2015, H.R. 712; and the Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome Act of 2015 (SCRUB Act), (bill number to be determined).

If passed, these bills would delay or shut down the development and implementation of crucial public health, workplace safety, consumer, financial and environmental protections. They appear to be part of the Big Business agenda that ignores the fact that commonsense regulations are essential to fostering economic growth and protecting the pocketbooks of American consumers. The hearing will be in 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.

• On Tuesday, the administration’s regulatory czar, Howard Shelanski, will be in the hot seat. He will be the sole witness at a joint hearing held by two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Shelanski is administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is part of the Office of Management and Budget. He oversees rulemaking for all agencies.

The hearing, “Challenges Facing OIRA in Transparency and Effective Rulemaking,” will be 2 p.m. in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building. It will be interesting to hear what Shelanski says about transparency, because OIRA is a black hole when it comes to telling the public the status of rules it is reviewing. Despite executive orders requiring that OIRA disclose its reasons for delaying or revising rules, rules can be held at the office for long periods with no explanation.

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The Corporate Congress took a break this week, but lawmakers are coming back on Monday. Here are the public interest attacks we know about so far:

• At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing dubbed “Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System.” You would think that with the Department of Homeland Security’s funding on the verge of running out, the committee would have more pressing concerns. But this is the McConnell-Boehner Congress, which remains laser-focused on devising ways to help its corporate backers. Based on what we know of GOP lawmakers’ overall take on the regulatory system, expect proposals that would put us back in the 19th century, when we had no child labor laws, no workplace safety standards, no Clean Air Act, no Consumer Product Safety Commission and so forth.

In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives already has approved measures that would launch a broadside on the regulatory system. Since January, the House has approved:
- The Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 185), which essentially would rewrite dozens of laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act, by requiring federal agencies to put corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of American workers and families;
- The Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act (UMITA) (H.R. 50), which would give corporations a secret heads-up about proposed rules while shutting out the public;
- And the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRFIA) (H.R. 527), which would give corporate interests even greater advantages in the regulatory process than they already enjoy.

Soon to come is the REINS Act (H.R. 427/S. 226), which reared its ugly head in 2013. This measure would require all new economically significant regulations – in other words, the public protections that provide the most health and safety benefits – to be approved by Congress and signed by the president before they can take effect. This means that even a lone senator could kill any significant new rule simply by doing nothing.

• At 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 27, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice holds a hearing titled “The State of Class Action Ten Years After the Enactment of the Class Action Fairness Act.” At the time the measure was proposed, Public Citizen opposed it, providing detailed analysis, pointing out the corporate interests that were pushing it and noting that it would dramatically curtail the rights of consumers to pursue state-law class action claims by shifting most of them to federal courts, which in many instances are far less advantageous for consumers. In the years since, corporate interests have used the fine print of their contracts to further restrict consumers’ and employees’ access to justice by removing their right to a jury trial and prohibiting participation in class actions. Lawmakers should keep in mind that class actions are a critical tool to preserve people’s ability to seek redress for corporate wrongdoing, particularly for small-dollar claims.

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

Note: The appellees in Price v. Philip Morris have filed a motion calling for Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier to recuse himself from the case. The request cites money allegedly spent by Philip Morris’ parent company in support of Karmeier’s retention election, funds that were channeled through a third-party organization and not transparent to the public, arguing that this funding requires recusal under the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. The motion also cites statements Karmeier made to a newspaper that the appellees claim evidences bias or the appearance of bias. Public Citizen in 2004 filed an amicus brief in the case, which centered around the use by cigarette companies of terms such as “light” and “low tar.”

For the public to trust that its courts are fair and administer equal justice, they must believe that judges are unbiased. For our courts to work and operate with public confidence, judges who may be biased or appear to be biased in a particular case must recuse themselves. For this reason, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier should recuse himself from the Philip Morris litigation.

The paper trail appears to show that Altria (the parent company of Philip Morris USA) contributed more than $700,000 to support the retention of Justice Karmeier – considerably more than half of all the money spent in support of Justice Karmeier’s 2014 retention election.

On its face, such a large expenditure, amounting to more than half of the spending on Justice Karmeier’s behalf, would make the case for recusal in major litigation involving Altria. The argument for recusal is further buttressed by Justice Karmeier’s public comments, which raise questions about his impartiality in the Philip Morris litigation.

Altria did not donate money directly to Justice Karmeier’s retention election campaign committee. Rather, it appears, the company made large contributions to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which then funneled monies on to an Illinois-specific independent expenditure committee, Republican State Leadership Committee – IE Committee (RSLC-IE).

The indirect nature of this funding makes it impossible to speak with certainty about Altria’s support of Justice Karmeier, but the paper trail makes it seem extremely likely that Altria’s reported donations to the Republican State Leadership Committee were intended and used to support Justice Karmeier’s retention election effort.

Indeed, the apparent indirect channeling of the funds to Justice Karmeier, and Altria’s apparent intention to keep its support of Justice Karmeier from public knowledge, makes the apparent significant and disproportionate influence of the expenditure all the worse. It deepens questions about Altria’s intent and the appearance of partiality created by the contributions.

Absent the presentation of some new information that explains away what the public record appears to show, Justice Karmeier should recuse himself from the Philip Morris case.

Across the United States, there has been a flood of money into judicial elections in the past two decades. To maintain a fair court system, it is plain that judicial elections should be carried out with public funding. States are free to adopt such solutions, but in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, it is at best questionable whether they could maintain restrictions on outside spending. So long as they cannot, or do not, it is imperative that they at least require litigants to disclose their relevant election spending in advance of a court’s consideration of their case.

Read a news story about the controversy.

Statement of David Arkush, Managing Director, Public Citizen’s Climate Program

Note: Today, the U.S. House of Representatives approved by 270-152 the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The House passage of legislation approving the Keystone pipeline reaffirms the Republican majority’s misplaced energy priorities. Rather than invest in a new energy infrastructure that would mitigate the climate crisis, boost the economy and improve public health, the majority is bent on advancing the fossil fuel industry’s agenda at Americans’ expense.

President Obama has made clear that he will veto this bill. He also should disapprove the pipeline, as it is a terrible deal for the American public. It would endanger the U.S. natural environment, contribute to climate change and raise U.S. prices by shipping oil overseas, all to benefit a foreign corporation.

With help from our friends at The Other 98% (and an activist marching band), we made the petition delivery to Citigroup’s Wall Street headquarters into a spectacle the banksters won’t soon forget.

And a special thanks to our friends at Americans for Financial Reform, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the American Association for Justice, Consumer Action and the National Consumer Law Center for joining us to gather signatures for this campaign.

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