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The FTC bill: Bob Eckhardt vs. the corporations By Charles Holmes Washington Section 7 of Congressman Bob Eckhardt’s HR 3816 \(the Federal Trade has the corporate lobbyists working overtime to defeat the bill, and Eckhardt, departing from ordinary live-and-letlobby congressional protocol, is fighting back with a series of name-naming reports on lobbyists’ activities. The bill originated in Eckhardt’s Consumer Protection and Finance Subcommittee and was approved by the full Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, although ten members \(nine Republicans and one DemocratTexas’ Bob Eckhardt’s offending section would “authorize consumer suits for damages against persons who violate Federal Trade Commission cease-and-desist orders or FTC rules.” It means that injured consumers could not only go to court individually, but consolidate many small claims into class action suits large enough to attract the attention of manufacturers and attorneys who might otherwise ignore them. Since the bill permits litigation only after the FTC has made a rule or issued an order, it’s not exactly as if businesses would be surprised by lawsuits out of the blue. But lobbyists opposed to the bill have come up with several arguments. They claim that, as proposed, the law would promote legal blackmail by encouraging irate consumers to file frivolous suits and forcing potential defendants to buy their way out of expensive court battles. Opponents of HR 3816 contend that the FTC has the power to settle consumer complaints, and that the commission, not a court, should remain the forum for resolving disputes. They even profess great concern about clogged dockets. Numbered among the business organizations fighting HR 3816 are Bristol Myers, Dow Chemical, the National Association of Manufacturers, the United States Chamber of Commerce, Sears. the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Mutual Savings Banks, Credit Thrift Corporation, Penney’s, and the Independent Bankers Association of America. These groups are riding high, having recently killed several pieces of labor The “Retire Eckhardt” campaign Congressman Bob Eckhardt’s proposed amendments to the Federal Trade Commission Act have so stirred up members of the Greater Houston Homebuilders Association that they are soliciting candidates to oppose the Harris County Democrat in 1978. “Federal elections are 14 months away, but now is the time to seek a worthy opponent for Bob Eckhardt,” Bob Batten wrote in the July 22 issue of the GHHA’s Reporter. Adds Batten: “We will continue to follow very closely Congressman Eckhardt’s activities and report to you and would hope that a grassroots campaign starts now to retire Congressman Eckhardt from Congress.” About the time the Batten piece appeared, Wynn Norris, a chemical engineer from Channelview, announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Congress in Eckhardt’s district. There are already rumors that Eckhardt may have opposition in the Democratic primary. If the eighth district’s voting history is any indication, Eckhardt is not particularly vulnerable, although he has annoyed enough of the big-money crowd to make fundraising fairly easy for an opponent. Certain interest groups will be standing in line to give money to an anybody-but-Eckhardt candidate. It should be remembered, though, that big bucks did not do the job in 1976. Nick Gearhart spent over $300,000 in his race to unseat Eckhardt and got less than 40 percent of the vote. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5