David Leitch, the general counsel of Ford Motor Co., is the new chairman of the board of directors of the National Chamber Litigation Center. Leitch succeeds James Comey, who until recently was senior vice president and general counsel of Lockheed Martin Corp.
And what is "the National Chamber Litigation Center," you ask? It’s the litigation arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most loathsome enterprises in the nation:
I asked [U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom] Donohue what, exactly, the Chamber does. “Two fundamental things,” he replied. “We’re advocates. Sure we do studies, sure we do events, sure we do meetings, sure we have all kinds of stuff, but we’re advocates.” And then he surprised me again with his candor. “The second thing we do is really more interesting,” he said. “We’re the reinsurance industry for individual industry associations and state chambers of commerce and people of that nature.” An example, said Donohue, was when Wall Street found itself on the defensive in opposing new banking regulations. “They can’t move forward, they can’t move back, or maybe they’re being overrun, and they’ll come to us and say, ‘Can we collect our reinsurance?’” he explained. “And then we build coalitions and go out and help them.”
In other words, a large part of what the Chamber sells is political cover. For multibillion-dollar insurers, drug makers, and medical device manufacturers who are too smart and image conscious to make public attacks of their own, the Chamber of Commerce is a friend who will do the dirty work. “I want to give them all the deniability they need,” says Donohue. That deniability is evidently worth a lot. According to a January article in the National Journal, six insurers alone—Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group, and Wellpoint—pumped up to $20 million into the Chamber last year.
That’s right: if you’re a multi-billion-dollar business trying to attack your own consumers, but you don’t want to get caught, call up the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap.
Just today, contemporaneously with Leitch’s elevation, the National Chamber Litigation Center filed a brief with the Supreme Court (in AT&T v. Concepcion) arguing that large corporations should be allowed to slip class-action waivers into everyday consumer contracts, in spite of state laws and court decisions prohibiting the practice.
Why would they want such a thing?
As their own brief admits — while disingenuously claiming that class-action waivers are good for consumers — it’s well-known that:
[I]n small-stakes cases, other than those amenable to litigation in small claims court, such litigation is also a dead end. As one court colorfully put it, “only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30.” Carnegie v. Household Int’l, Inc., 376 F.3d 656, 661 (7th Cir. 2004).
Precisely. The Chamber of Commerce wants to bend the rules for large corporations so that those large corporations can adopt practices that harm millions of consumers in small amounts, amounts small enough that it’s simply not worth it to each individual consumer to bring a lawsuit, like when Wells Fargo fraudulently manipulated the order of debit transactions to increase the overdraft fees charged. (Small businesses generally don’t try this nonsense: their customers aren’t as captive, reputation is more important, and the money just isn’t there if you’ve only got a few hundred or thousand regular customers.)
That’s why class actions are so important — they tip the scales a back towards the consumers, making viable claims out of these cases involving a multitude of small harms — and why the Chamber of Commerce is fighting so hard to get rid of them.
That’s just one example of the the National Chamber Litigation Center’s work, an example plucked from the very same day that Leitch’s elevation was announced.
Which raises two important questions: why is Ford closely associating itself with an anti-consumer lobbying group? and why should consumers buy a product from a company secretly fighting to take away their rights?