Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

An executive at a for-profit college charged by multiple government agencies for allegedly deceiving students and pushing them into high-cost student loans recently complained that the school hasn’t had its “day in court.”

Cue the irony, because this for-profit college, ITT Technical Institute, has systematically denied its own students their right to a day in court.

Like other corporations seeking to evade accountability, ITT uses the fine print of its college enrollment forms to force its students into secret arbitration (and out of court) to resolve disputes. It also prohibits students from banding together in class actions against it.

Where is the students’ justice?

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate sponsor of the CLASS Act, called out ITT’s CEO for his glaring hypocrisy.

Continue Reading

Share/Bookmark

by Luana Wang

Once again, a new kind of shadowy organization is threatening the integrity of our nation’s public and political engagement.

If you’re familiar with campaign finance law, you might be thinking of groups famous for spending on political campaigns, such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads organizations, which have been accused of violating federal election law. Or maybe you’re thinking of the Koch-backed political network of more than a dozen different registered groups. Maybe you’re thinking of Patriot Majority USA, which has poured millions into political advertisements on behalf of Democratic candidates. But those aren’t the groups Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is concerned about.

On April 15, 2015, Sen. Hatch and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wrote to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, urging the IRS to “clarify” the status of workers’ centers, charitable organizations which provide training and resources to low-wage workers. Because they advocate for workers in disputes, Sen. Hatch and Rep. Ryan have asked the IRS to classify these organizations as labor unions instead of charities for tax purposes, even though they operate very differently from unions.

Meanwhile, two days earlier, Sen. Hatch wrote to Commissioner Koskinen asking that the IRS stop working to clarify the definition of political activity for nonprofits, including politically active nonprofits like Crossroads and the Koch-backed political network. Many of these groups are registered as “social welfare” organizations, which do not have to disclose their donors and yet are able to spend millions of dollars influencing political outcomes due in part to ambiguities and inconsistencies in the IRS rules.

Continue Reading

Public Citizen members and supporters like YOU are making a real difference in helping grow the momentum around the call for a tax on Wall Street transactions.

Last month, we joined in the Million Strong petition push as part of a worldwide action to make sure the eleven European nations that are negotiating a collaborative financial transaction tax stay strong and come out with a good proposal.

Here in the states, the campaign to achieve a tax on Wall Street trades captured an important win when the media last week began asking candidates if they will stand with Main Street or Wall Street when it comes to tamping down high-speed trading and market speculation by instituting a tiny fee on stock, bond, and derivative trades.

And, just last week, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got a ton of much-deserved press for his proposal to fund free public college tuition by instituting a Wall Street speculation fee. At the same time, Sen. Sanders also introduced a Senate companion bill to U.S. Rep. Ellison’s Inclusive Prosperity Act, the first time the bill has been offered in that chamber. It’s clear that Sen. Sanders’ proposal will do a lot to push the public debate leading up to the 2016 elections toward looking at solutions like a Wall Street tax.

In addition to creating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, a tiny tax on trades on financial products could make a huge difference in taming Wall Street’s volatility.

Continue Reading

By Emily Myers

On April 22, U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) introduced H.R. 1927, a bill that would severely limit the ability of citizens who have been harmed or ripped off to band together in a class-action lawsuit. The bill stipulates that in order to be certified as a class, each individual member must prove they have suffered an injury identical in type and extent to the proposed class representative(s). This would create unnecessary red tape for people who have suffered harm at the hands of corporations and institutions and effectively ban them from forming class actions. Historically, class actions have been an efficient and economical way for consumers and citizens to reconcile their disputes with employers and companies. Below are five of the most important class-action lawsuits that would have been threatened by Rep. Goodlatte’s bill.

Anderson v. Pacific Gas & Electric Company

Immortalized in the film Erin Brockovich, Anderson v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. allowed the residents of Hinkley, California, to be compensated for the medical costs of PG&E’s negligence. PG&E had been knowingly dumping hexavalent chromium, a recognized poison since 1925, into the town’s groundwater. In 1996, the lawsuit was settled for $333 million, the largest civil action settlement at the time. This case would have been virtually impossible to win had the residents of Hinkley been prohibited from banding together. Unless we want to encourage corporations to freely pump carcinogens through our water, we need to protect the right to class-action lawsuits and oppose Rep. Goodlatte’s bill.

Brown v. Board of Education

A class-action lawsuit was behind one of the most important civil rights cases of all times, ensuring that the quality of one’s education would no longer be decided by the color of one’s skin. After the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, decided to maintain its racially segregated elementary school system, African-American children of elementary school age brought a class action lawsuit challenging the system in a federal court in Kansas. The case ultimately was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court together with similar class actions filed on behalf of children in South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware. Those fighting for social justice argued that “separate but equal” was a myth because as long as black and white schools remained segregated they would never be equal. On May 17, 1954, The court agreed, and a major milestone in the civil rights movement was reached. If we want to keep moving our society forward to achieve better civil rights protections, we cannot restrict class-action lawsuits.

Anderson et al., v. Cryovac Inc. et al.

You may know this case from the John Travolta movie, A Civil Action, but outside the world of cinema, it had major impact on the lives of Woburn, Massachusetts, residents. The named plaintiff, Anne Anderson, and six other Woburn families sued Beatrice Foods, the John L. Riley Tannery, and W.R. Grace & Company, a New York company that owned and operated the Cryovac Division manufacturing plant, for polluting the town’s drinking water with trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene and other toxic chemicals. Woburn families had suffered immensely at the hands of these companies’ actions. In addition to health problems like skin rashes, vision difficulties, miscarriages and headaches, 12 Woburn children, eight of them living within a half-mile radius, had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. The plaintiff class ultimately was rewarded a settlement of approximately $8 million. The expense of proving companies are responsible for causing an illness is very high since experts are required to help draw the connection to who caused the harm. It’s only efficient to bring such cases as class actions, where multiple persons have suffered some harm caused by the same entity or entities. The fact is, a class action was the best hope for Woburn families, as it is for many people.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Litigation

In March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska. Until the BP Oil spill in 2010, the Exxon Valdez spill was considered to be the worst environmental disaster in the United States. In addition to the appalling environmental degradation, the livelihoods of local people plummeted as a result of the spill. A class action was filed on behalf of 32,000 fishermen, Alaska natives, landowners, and others. U.S. District Court Judge H. Russell Holland stated that, “Exxon officials knew that carrying huge volumes of crude oil through Prince William Sound was a dangerous business, yet they knowingly permitted a relapsed alcoholic to direct the operation of the Exxon Valdez through Prince William Sound.” After years of appeals and renegotiations, the plaintiff class was awarded $1.515 billion. The negligence of Exxon Mobil leading up to the spill was staggering, and the harm the corporation did needed to be reconciled. Rep. Goodlatte’s bill would prevent people affected by corporate wrongdoing from banding together and seeking justice, as those harmed by the Exxon Valdez spill did.

Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Company

Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., depicted in the film North Country, was the first sexual harassment class-action lawsuit. Filed on behalf of Lois E. Jenson and 14 other female workers in the EVTAC mine in Eveleth, Minnesota, in 1988, the conclusion of the case changed worker protection laws on both the state and federal levels and set a precedent for other class actions aiming to end workplace harassment and discrimination. The women involved in the class-action lawsuit were subjected to extreme harassment in the form of stalking, abusive language, threats and intimidation. Since 1984, Lois E. Jenson had repeatedly tried to bring attention to the problem but was met with additional hostile behavior and eventual dismissal. A class-action suit allowed her and 14 other women to be compensated for the traumatizing harassment they endured. In 1994, the case ended with an out-of-court settlement after years of delay by the judges and jury. The 15 women received a monetary settlement from the EVTAC mine of $3.5 million. It’s extremely important that we keep Rep. Goodlatte from turning back the clock on women’s ability to challenge harmful behavior in the workplace like sexual harassment.

Emily Myers is an intern with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

By Robert Craycraft

Asbestos was once used as a flame-retardant and for electrical insulation in buildings, ships and homes. Before it was discovered to cause cancer, millions of American workers and veterans handled and were otherwise exposed to deadly asbestos fibers.

An unknown amount of the hazardous material is still present in our communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly 3,000 people continue to die from mesothelioma and asbestosis every year; some experts estimate the death toll is as high as 10,000 annually when other types of asbestos-linked diseases and cancers are included.

In early February, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on H.R. 526, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (or FACT Act). Generally speaking, the more transparency the better. However, in this case, the asbestos industry is using the guise of “transparency” to push the FACT Act as a way to delay compensation to asbestos victims and their families. The bill would require the trusts that manage victim compensation to retroactively compile information on all claims they’ve paid and to require the trusts to answer any and all information requests by asbestos company defendants.

These paperwork requirements could have the effect of slowing or even stopping the important work of the trusts to compensate victims that have developed deadly diseases like mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called the FACT Act a “Trojan horse” which “guarantees that the insurance companies pay as little as possible.”

Continue Reading

© Copyright . All Rights Reserved.