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Consumer Protection
Excerpts from Speeches       Proceedings and Debates       Hearings       Committee prints and reports

As Minnesota's Attorney General from 1960-1964, Walter Mondale established a reputation as a strong consumer advocate. He litigated and won several high-profile consumer protection cases: deception and fraud amounting to millions of dollars by the Sister Elizabeth Kenny Foundation; fraud by Minnesota Boys Town, in which donations amounting to a quarter of a million dollars were not used for troubled teens; and fraud by the Holland Furnace Company of Michigan, in which aggressive salesmen conducted phony tests and convinced homeowners that they needed a new furnace. He added a consumer protection unit to the Office of Attorney General. He applied the conviction for consumer protection he developed as attorney general—"Consumers are always at risk of getting cheated by some shady operator, and that they often have no remedy. . . The attorney general's office should protect members of the public in cases where they couldn't protect themselves . . . [and] Sometimes you need the hand of government to ensure that honest people can carry on in business"[1]Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 18-19.—to his work in the United States Senate.

As a freshman senator, Mr. Mondale cosponsored the Truth in Packaging Bill, introduced by Senator Hart (D-MI), requiring packages to accurately and clearly provide essential product information and fairly represent their content. In a speech to the Pillsbury Company Consumer Forum, Senator Mondale echoed what he learned as attorney general: "Government does have an ancient and indispensable responsibility to protect the ethical competitor and the consumer from those who would resort to fraud, misrepresentation and deliberately contrived confusion. And Government has a responsibility to protect the ethical competitor and the consumer from those who fail to clearly and responsibly disclose the essential facts necessary for a wise and rational consumer choice."[2]89th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 111 (July 16, 1965): 17119-17121.

Senator Mondale worked closely with Ralph Nader, a well-known consumer advocate, in drafting the Fair Warning Act. The bill required automobile manufacturers to immediately notify consumers with defective cars. The bill was incorporated into President Johnson's National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966.[3]Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 39-40. Senator Mondale worked hard to get the Vehicle Safety Act passed, writing articles and giving speeches concerning the fundamental right of consumers "to know about any hidden hazards associated with the products they buy."[4]89th Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 112 (July 18, 1966): 16003-16004. When the car companies claimed they would have to raise car prices due to new safety standards, Senator Mondale was skeptical: "I think it is most strange that an industry which is so experienced and expert at making expensive annual styling changes in automobiles without increasing prices, finds it necessary to substantially increase prices to meet the modest safety standards being required this year. I cannot recall ever hearing an industry spokesman say 'prices will have to be increased this year because of the costly styling changes in our new cars.' But let anyone mention the most trivial safety requirement and immediately we hear that it will be terribly costly and that the consumer will have to pay extra for it."[5]90th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 113 (June 1, 1967): 14412-14414.

Senator Mondale introduced the Wholesome Meat Act in 1967 after learning of unsanitary conditions in unregulated slaughter houses. He discovered that some of the largest meat packing firms "purchase or establish intrastate meat plants to avoid federal inspection."[6]90th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 113 (November 8, 1967): 31716-31718. The act, therefore, aimed to extend federal inspection of slaughter houses to companies doing business within a state as well as across state lines. Senator Mondale was instrumental in getting this legislation passed, thus ensuring the public of protection for all meat and meat products. He was adamant that there be federal inspection standards for all meat packing plants, and that adequate funds were provided to states to improve their inspection systems.

Senator Mondale introduced legislation three times in an effort to outlaw fraudulent pyramid schemes; he supported legislation providing federal assistance to states for establishing and strengthening consumer protection programs (1969); he introduced a bill that provided for mandatory inspection of protein products (poultry, fish, and eggs)(1968); and he drew attention to the affects of asbestos and the effects of unsafe working conditions on workers (1973). When inflation sky-rocketed, Senator Mondale introduced Senate Resolution 357, insisting that the government pursue "a more balanced set of anti-inflationary policies"[7]91st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 116 (February 6, 1970): 2706-2708. (1970). He also introduced bills that would impose a freeze on all prices, rents, interest rates, and wages and that would direct the President to use the allotted time to establish "a long-run program to control inflation that is firm, fair, and equitable"[8]93rd Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 119 (June 5, 1973): 17994. (1973).

In his last full year in the Senate, Walter Mondale supported an agency much like the consumer protection unit he added as an attorney general:

Consumers are usually poorly organized, underfunded, and ill equipped to present an effective case before a federal court or agency. A single consumer can rarely gather the resources needed to intervene or litigate. A group of consumers often feel a sense of powerlessness, even if it is able to find out about an important consumer proceeding in time to participate . . . The Agency for Consumer Advocacy will function as an advocate and spokesman for consumer interests. The ACA will provide useful input to the decision making process and will provide important and helpful information to the American consumer. We have needed the Agency for Consumer Advocacy for a long time. Now is the time to take decisive action to insure the prompt creation of the ACA, the effective representation of the consumer before Federal courts and federal agencies, and decision making in the consumer interest.[9]94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (May 7, 1975): 13323-13361.

Excerpts from Senator Mondale's speeches on consumer protection: [Top]
Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs Betty Furness reviews a Senate bill with Senator Walter Mondale and others; credit: Minnesota Historical Society

 

"Our goal must be to place the consumer in a bargaining position which will give him a fair opportunity to choose to buy in a rational manner. There is room, in our economy, in any free society, for successful capital venture and business profit as well as true value for the consumer's dollar. . . .

Thus our primary objective is to make the free enterprise system work so that the prize goes to the best competitor, not to the best conniver."

89th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 111 (July 16, 1965) at 17121.


Walter Mondale meets with Ralph Nader in Mondale's Senate office; credit: Minnesota Historical Society

 

 

"It may be that the driver is to blame for most traffic accidents. But situations such as this and other evidence accumulated in recent months indicate that safety defects may play a much larger role in the accident rate than heretofore estimated. But even if only 1 percent of all accidents is caused by such defects, I think the drivers of these defective cars have a right to know they are riding around in booby traps. And to fail to warn them is to force them to play Russian roulette without their knowing so."

89th Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 112 (April 18, 1966) at 8216.


"Who should bear the risks of safety defects—the manufacturer, who has economic considerations at stake, or the motorist, who has his life at stake? I don't think there is much room for argument. Human life is more important than corporate profits."

89th Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 112 (July 18, 1966) at 16004.


"Swampland, arid desert, and pipedreams can still be sold to the public without informing a buyer of the facts which he needs to know in order to make a wise investment. . . The promoter paints a glowing picture of the future development and prospects of the tract. He will not reveal the unfavorable characteristics of the land or development. He confines himself to predictions based on artists' conceptions of how it might look or pictures of a few houses built solely for the promotional purposes without sewer, water, telephone, or electricity. Thousands of citizens, both elderly and younger, have invested savings—not current earnings, but the money saved a dollar or two at a time—in worthless properties."

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Banking and Currency. Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Securities. June 21 and 22; August 18, 1966.



President Lyndon Johnson' pet dog, Yuki, attracts attention during the signing into law of a meat inspection bill; credit: Minnesota Historical Society

 

 

"I am a person who believes in state rights. I have spent more time in state government than I have in federal government, but I believe in state responsibility, too, and I think that there can be no compromise on the objective of clean and wholesome meat, and the federal government and the state government have to assume total responsibility on this.
. . . the worst thing that we could do here is to pass nominal legislation. We have got to deal with this problem fully and completely, so that the American consumer can be safe and secure in the purchase and consumption of meat."

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. Meat Inspection: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Agricultural Research and General Legislation. 90th Cong., 1st sess., November 9, 10, 14, and 15, 1967.



Senator Walter Mondale shops in a grocery store with a constituent during the congressional campaign of Representative Joe Karth of Minnesota; credit: Minnesota Historical Society

 

 

 

"Consumers of America: If you are not a majority, then who is? Make yourselves heard. Inflation has cost you far too much already. A responsible trade policy needs your voice in Washington now."

91st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 116 (December 7, 1970) at 40042.

Selected U.S. Senate proceedings and debates on consumer protection, 1965-1975: [Top]
U.S. Senate hearings on consumer protection in which Senator Mondale participated: [Top]
  • Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Securities, 89th Cong. (1966).

  • Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act of 1967: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Securities, 90th Cong. (1967).

  • Meat Inspection: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Agricultural Research and General Legislation, 90th Cong. (1967).

  • Wholesome Poultry Products Act: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Agricultural Research and General Legislation, 90th Cong. (1968).

  • Custom Slaughtering Operations and State Meat Inspection: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Agricultural Research and General Legislation, 91st Cong. (1970).

  • Inflation: The Need for a More Balanced Policy Mix: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Production and Stabilization, 91st Cong. (1970).

  • Trade Act of 1970: Amendments 925 and 1009 to H.R. 17550, Social Security Amendments of 1970: Hearings and Informal Proceedings Before the Committee on Finance, pts. 1 and 2, 91st Cong. (1970).

  • Unsolicited Credit Cards: Executive Session of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions, 91st Cong. (1970).

  • Unsolicited Credit Cards: Executive Session of the Committee on Banking and Currency, 91st Cong. (1970).

  • Pyramid Sales: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Consumer, 93rd Cong. (1974).

Selected Senate committee prints and reports on consumer protection: [Top]

    Committee Prints

  • Select Comm. on Small Business, Effects of the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 Upon Small Business, (Comm. Print 1971).

  • Committee Reports

  • Comm. on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Federal Contribution to State Meat and Poultry Inspection Costs, S. Rep. No. 92-297 (1971).

  • Comm. on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Pyramid Sales Act, S. Rep. No. 93-1114 (1974).

  • Comm. on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Pyramid Sales Act, S. Rep. No. 94-114 (1975).


Endnotes:[TOP]
  1. Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 18-19.
  2. 89th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 111 (July 16, 1965): 17119-17121.
  3. Walter Mondale, The Good Fight, (New York: Scribner, 2010), 39-40.
  4. 89th Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 112 (July 18, 1966): 16003-16004.
  5. 90th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 113 (June 1, 1967): 14412-14414.
  6. 90th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 113 (November 8, 1967): 31716-31718.
  7. 91st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 116 (February 6, 1970): 2706-2708.
  8. 93rd Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 119 (June 5, 1973): 17994.
  9. 94th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 121 (May 7, 1975): 13323-13361.