Anti-Consumer Record Makes Former Assembly Member Zettel Ill-Suited to Lead Consumer Protection Agency
Santa Monica, CA –Charlene Zettel should not be confirmed as Director of California’s Department of Consumer Affairs by Senators Wednesday, consumer groups said today. Pointing to the former Assemblywoman’s legislative record, advocates with The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), said that Zettel’s previous anti-consumer votes cast strong doubts over her ability to effectively lead the Department and protect California consumers.
In separate letters to the Senate Rules Committee, which will consider her nomination at a hearing tomorrow, the groups urged the Senate to consider her voting record and not confirm her tomorrow. Zettel was nominated for the post by Governor Schwarzenegger.
“It would be an abandonment of the public interest to leave the Department of Consumer Affairs in the hands of a politician who tried to remove accountability for pharmaceutical companies that produced dangerous drugs, who fought against consumer protections from predatory lenders, and who stood in the way of consumer privacy,” wrote FTCR’s Executive Director Douglas Heller
Rosemary Shahan, Executive Director of CARS, suggested that, at the very least, Zettel’s confirmation should be withheld until she demonstrates a sustained commitment to consumer protection. Shahan pointed to Zettel’s opposition to SB 1718 in 2000, which added new protections to the California’s auto lemon law as an example of Zettel protecting business interests over consumer and public interests.
“Assemblymember Zettel sided with auto manufacturers, who opposed the bill, which was supported by firefighters, health and safety organizations, consumer groups, and small businesses,” wrote Shahan. As Director of the Department of Consumer Affairs, Zettel would be responsible for protecting consumers under such lemon laws.
In another consumer protection issue considered very important by most Californians, FTCR and CARS both cite Zettel’s votes against financial privacy for consumers during the Legislature’s multi-year battle with banks and insurers for California’s privacy law, which eventually won passage in 2003. The Director of Consumer Affairs oversees the state’s Office of Privacy Protection, and consumer groups questioned Zettel’s ability to vigorously enforce protections that she consistently opposed while she was an elected official.
Zettel’s Anti-Consumer Record
As an Assemblywoman, Zettel earned a failing score of between 11% and 24% on key consumer votes between 2000 and 2002, according to the Consumer Federation of California. In 2001 she scored a 0% on the public interest scorecard issued by the Alliance for Better Business and in 2002 she scored a 6.25% from that group. Below are some more examples of her anti-consumer votes while in the Assembly:
– In 1999, Zettel introduced AB 1443, which would have exempted prescription drug manufacturers from strict liability for design defects.
– Opposed SB 985 (Kuehl) in 2001 establishing a pilot project to provide earlier warning of eviction to tenants;
– Opposed AB 489 (Migden) in 2001 which protects consumers from a variety of unfair lending practices;
– In 2001, opposed AB 1277 (Cardenas) that reformed disclosures from funeral directors to family of the deceased. At the DCA, Ms. Zettel oversees the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau.
In addition to her prior record, consumer groups pointed to her most notable act since being appointed to the Department: the firing of Lynn Morris as head of the Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation. Ms. Morris was roundly applauded for her consumer protection work in various administrations over twenty years and Zettel’s willingness to let Ms. Morris go was a blow to consumer product safety in California.
“When the consumer protection regulator sends signals that she puts corporations’ interests first, consumer protection disappears,” said Heller.
Is Zettel Responsible for Promoting the Dissolution of the Agency?
Consumer groups also questioned Zettel’s role in the recently released California Performance Review. Under this secretly developed plan to radically restructure state government, the Department of Consumer Affairs would largely become a business licensing agency, with the Office of Consumer Protection merely a subsidiary of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Protection. The Review also plans to slash many of the consumer protection boards that are under the aegis of Consumer Affairs. Zettel contributed to the report, and consumer groups want to know if she advocated for or agrees with this proposal to dissolve the Department of Consumer Affairs.
“Ms. Zettel has a right to hold the view that efficient business licensing is more important than thorough consumer protection, but she cannot maintain that view and head the Department of Consumer Affairs. Senators should not confirm someone to a post who believes that the post should not exist,” said Heller.