By Bret Thompson, Public Citizen
It may seem counterintuitive to appoint an individual to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) who was spent her professional career defending corporations against consumer safety complaints. Yet, this is exactly what President Donald Trump has done by nominating Dana Baiocco to the CPSC.
The mission of the CPSC is to keep Americans safe from unreasonable risk of injury or death at the hands of consumer products. Unfortunately, Baiocco has spent nearly her entire career defending corporations, not looking out for consumers. As a result, Public Citizen urges the United States Senate to reject her nomination.
As a partner at the corporate law firm Jones Day, Baiocco’s client list included Yamaha, Mattel, and the tobacco company RJ Reynolds, and she has spent her professional career defending corporations from product safety claims. This biography stands in stark contrast to the CPSC mission to protect consumers. Baoicco’s nomination is just one in a long line of administration officials who bring deep corporate ties to their position, more interested in protecting corporate power over the interests of those they are meant to serve.
Baiocco’s Senate hearing did nothing to dispel our fears that she will work in opposition to the goals of the CSPC. In her opening statement, Baiocco listed one of her aims as working “to protect consumers from unreasonable risks while balancing the American public’s right to have access to a range of affordable product choices and recreational activities.” The fact that affordability is a central consideration in Baiocco’s mind is troubling. The Commission is tasked with protecting consumers from risk of injury or death, regardless of the price of a product. If Baiocco does not understand the CPSC’s central goal, and in fact thinks low product cost is an equal aim, then she will not be an effective Commissioner.
We are also concerned about the significant conflicts of interest that Baiocco would bring to the Commission. During her nomination hearing, Baiocco said that she would recuse herself from cases involving companies she previously represented for the duration of a year as required by law. She would not, however, commit to recusing herself from these cases for the duration of her tenure on the Commission. While that is the letter of the law, practically speaking, this means that the companies that she has represented only need to wait a year before she is once again working to protect their bottom line. Thus, Baoicco’s failure to recuse herself for the duration of her time on the Commission raises significant concerns about her ability to make objective judgments as a commissioner. Here are some of the corporations to which Baiocco has connections that could potentially cause conflicts of interest:
- Yamaha: Baiocco represented Yamaha in lawsuits regarding the safety of its Rhino all-terrain vehicles (ATV). Multiple lawsuits were filed concerning the tendency of the Rhino ATV to tip over, trapping the rider beneath the vehicle. With help from Baiocco, Yamaha was able to keep manufacturing the vehicle until 2013, when pressure from the CSPC helped put an end to the Rhino’s production. The CPSC is currently considering rulemaking to protect consumers from dangerous ATV.
- Mattel: A team from Jones Day, including Baiocco, represented Mattel in connection with lawsuits surrounding Mattel’s voluntary recall of toys made with paint that contained lead. A priority activity for CSPC in 2018 is to finalize rules related to testing for lead in products under the Commission’s jurisdiction.
- RJ Reynolds: Baiocco represented RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company in a class-action suit filed on behalf of smokers in Florida. While Baiocco claimed during her hearing that this would not be a conflict of interest because cigarettes are not handled by the CSPC, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) noted that RJ Reynolds was one of the tobacco companies that advocated for the use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture. The CSPC voted last year to ban the useof organohalogen flame retardants and continues to undertake work regarding these chemicals. Thus, RJ Reynolds still has a significant interest in the work of the Commission.
We have little confidence that Dana Baoicco will make decisions as a commissioner that are in the best for consumers rather than helping to protect the bottom line of corporate wrongdoers. For these reasons, we strongly urge the Senate to vote against her nomination to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.