Who's the public in Public Interest?

The Madison County Record Aug. 15, 2010, 12:39pm

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Ronald Reagan's oft-quoted quip resonates today with a government so anxious to act on our behalf that it's taking over vast portions of our economy and regulating the rest into submission. But the late president neglected to mention that the same kind of "help" is often offered by nongovernmental organizations, many of which are nonpartisan in name only.

Some self-styled and self-appointed public-interest and consumer-advocacy groups often claim to be interceding on our behalf when what they're really doing is shilling for government or for undisclosed vested interests seeking to hijack the power of government for less than idealistic ends.

What better name for a consumer group than "Public Citizen"? With a name like that, they must be acting on our behalf, right? Otherwise, they'd call themselves "Vested Interest." Surely, no one is trying to mislead us.

And if you can't trust a journalist writing a column called "The Savvy Consumer," who can you trust?

The column's author, Matthew Hathaway of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, seems less than skeptical, however, as he dutifully rewrites the talking points of Public Citizen in an August 7th posting at stltoday.com.

Public Citizen is waging a legal, lobbying, and publicity campaign to have arbitration clauses removed from consumer contracts – for theg benefit of consumers, they allege. With Hathaway, they got a carnival barker for their propaganda.

A savvy consumer knows that arbitration removes the prospect of class action profits for big bucks class action attorneys. Those lawyers could benefit immensely if Public Citizen got arbitration clauses removed from consumer contracts and the consumer had to go to court to try to get a fair shake along with big legal fees.

Maybe Hathaway should come to Madison County and find out who benefits most from class action cases. (Hint: It's not the harmed plaintiffs who get $5 coupons while the class action lawyers get megabucks legal fees).

Perhaps it's time to apply truth in labeling laws to certain nonprofit organizations. It would make a good column subject for a savvy consumer writer.

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