Washington, DC — Consumer Watchdog asked President Obama to force BP Fund Administrator Kenneth Feinberg to withdraw from a keynote address Wednesday at a Chamber of Commerce group dedicated to eviscerating spill victims’ legal rights, and to fire Feinberg if he refuses.
In the letter to Obama, Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said:
“Given the Chamber’s controversial role in the 2010 election, the organization’s commitment to deny individual citizens their right to hold large corporations accountable and Mr. Feinberg’s own troubled record when it comes to administering the BP Victims Fund, it is highly inappropriate and possibly unethical for Mr. Feinberg to be supporting the Chamber of Commerce by providing a keynote address. We call on you to demand that Mr. Feinberg sever his relationship with the Chamber of Commerce or resign from his position as the Administrator of the victims’ fund.”
Consumer Watchdog said Feinberg, by agreeing to deliver the keynote speech to the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, is breaching his ethical duty to victims, given the group’s advocacy for limited liability in oil spills. The group’s president Jamie Court also wrote that the speech, just days before the election, thwarted Obama’s own criticism of the Chamber’s anonymous funneling of oil and insurance money in Tuesday’s election.
“Mr. Feinberg’s decision to support the Chamber of Commerce comes in the midst of the Chamber engaging in one of the largest corporate campaign contribution laundering schemes in U.S. history,” Court wrote. “On any number of occasions, you have rightfully made public your concerns that the Chamber’s efforts to funnel millions of corporate dollars from undisclosed donors is compromising our democratic processes. Last Friday’s New York Times investigative report confirmed the fact that concealed donations to the Chamber’s efforts come from big oil, Wall Street tycoons and insurance industry trying to roll back financial protections, thwart the implementation of health care reform and shred environmental protections.
“The fact that the Chamber is largely hiding such activities from the American public is particularly troubling for our democracy. In California, for example, we at Consumer Watchdog have seen a Chamber-backed political action committee, JobsPAC, receive $3.8 million from the insurance industry for television commercials to elect the industry’s candidate for insurance commissioner. Television commercials for the industry’s candidate don’t disclose that the source of the contributions is from the insurance industry, only the Chamber’s committee. So the commercials can say the candidate for insurance commissioner is fighting the very insurance industry that is surreptitiously funding the advertisements.
“There is no greater threat to voters getting all the information they need to make an informed choice in the election next Tuesday than the Chamber of Commerce,” Court noted. “Days before an election, Mr. Feinberg should not be credentialing one of its most anti-American causes – stripping citizens of their legal rights”
In addition, said the letter, the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform “has led deceptive efforts to change the composition of state supreme courts in order to make them pro-business and anti-consumer.”
Feinberg himself has been slow to pay compensation to victims of BP’s Gulf spill, largely small businesses and individuals, said Consumer Watchdog. While he forces claimants to jump through bureaucratic hoops and provide endless paperwork, he accepts multimillion-dollar compensation from BP under a contract that has not been fully made public.
The letter said:
“A delayed process serves BP’s interest. A delayed process serves Mr. Feinberg’s financial interest. But for the victims, justice delayed is justice denied. “
The Chamber’s activities aimed at thwarting consumer rights and oil industry environmental safety in the Gulf may create an outright conflict of interest for Feinberg, said Consumer Watchdog:
· The Chamber has lobbied against the Death on the High Seas Act (as well as the whole SPILL Act that passed the House).
· The [Institute’s] 990 Internal Revenue Service tax filing show that several oil companies sit on the board of their Institute for Legal Reform. Charles James is EVP at Chevron and Charles Matthews is General Counsel at Exxon. Mark Holden is Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Koch Industries.
· The Chamber filed amicus briefs supporting Exxon as it fought punitive damages post-Valdez. Click here to read the briefs.
· The Chamber has been especially involved in Louisiana. The Institute for Legal Reform owns an outlet called Louisiana Record that is a propaganda outlet and has consistently ranked Louisiana at the bottom of their legal rankings list.
Consumer Watchdog concluded in the letter to Obama, “In light of the Chamber’s political money laundering, effort to take away legal rights from everyday people, and specific interest in the BP oil spill and accountability issues, supporting the Chamber of Commerce, days before a pivotal election, is unseemly for a representative of the President appointed to help victims of the worst man-made domestic environmental disaster since the Exxon Valdez. “
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Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA. Find us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org