Group pickets Bowen for stance on corporate crime bill

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DAILY BREEZE (Santa Monica, CA)

SACRAMENTO — A consumer group has turned on Sen. Debra Bowen for her role in shelving a measure that would have created a “three strikes” law for corporate crooks.

The Foundation for Consumer and Taxpayer Rights, which tangles mostly with the insurance industry, staged a small protest Thursday outside Bowen’s office in Redondo Beach.

Members of the group held up posters claiming Bowen’s key vote in an Assembly committee was tantamount to “excusing corporate crimes against society.”

Bowen defended her decision, saying the legislation supported by the organization was unworkable and ineffective.

“Three strikes for corporate felons is a great bumper sticker, but I don’t vote for bumper stickers,” said Bowen, a Democrat.

Bowen, who was not in her office at the time, has been a loyal vote for consumers throughout her legislative tenure, said Shelley Curran, a veteran lobbyist for Consumers’ Union, a broader based organization that publishes Consumer Reports.

“It is fair to say she has been a lead in Sacramento on increasing consumer protections,” Curran said.

However, Curran did not object to activists staging a protest in front of Bowen’s office.

“It’s imperative that lawmakers hear from their constituents,” she said.

The measure causing the flap sought to extend to corporate boardrooms a “three strikes” law modeled after the initiative that puts criminals behind bars for 25 years to life if convicted of three violent or serious felonies.

Under the white-collar version, the state attorney general would be required to dissolve any corporation or partnership convicted of a third felony for offenses such as tax evasion, or serious violations of environmental, labor or civil rights laws.

However, Bowen said the legislation came with a caveat that such penalties could be imposed only if lost jobs would be replaced and investor interests protected — two requirements that would likely never be met.

“There is no way you can dissolve a corporation and protect investors and jobs,” Bowen said.

The legislation — SB 335 by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles — also would have required corporations guilty of first- and second-strike felonies to make admissions in full-page newspaper advertisements.

“I want to do things that are real,” Bowen said. “If I want to send a message, I’ll call FedEx.”

The measure failed twice in the Senate Appropriations Committee when Bowen joined forces with five Republicans who opposed it. While Bowen’s vote could have moved the bill out of the committee, so too could have votes from two other Democrats — Jackie Speier of Daly City and Mike Machado of Linden — who abstained at critical junctures.

Sen. Betty Karnette, a Long Beach Democrat who represents the Harbor Area and Palos Verdes Peninsula, supported the legislation.

At the protest, Loyola law professor Bob Benson harangued Bowen for her vote.

“It’s a cold dose of water in the face,” said Benson, who does free legal work for the consumer foundation and has pushed for corporate law reform since 1997.

“If three strikes is good enough for pizza thieves, it’s good enough for corporate criminals,” he said.

Carmen Balber, a spokeswoman for the consumer foundation, claimed Bowen’s vote “killed a law that was the ultimate in protection for consumers.”

Balber said they chose not to picket Machado’s office because he had voted for the legislation at one point. Speier’s office also was not targeted, although Balber said the foundation publicly criticized her position.

Romero said her legislation was a response to a wave of corporate corruption.

“We have seen the integrity and stability of our financial markets and the economy eviscerated by the revelations of corporate malfeasance, deception and outright fraud,” Romero said. “Under SB 335, these egregious acts would not be dismissed and corporate accountability would have finally meant something.”

Consumer Watchdog
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