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NCGA moves to cripple A.G. consumer protection unit

Jeremy Sprinkle
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More proof our legislature serves ideologues, not the people

Given its track record of putting conservative ideology above everything else, maybe its no surprise that our out-of-control state legislature has moved since returning to Raleigh last week to cripple the Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection by eliminating its funding entirely. Its effort to transform the publicly funded office tasked with protecting taxpayers from fraud and other predatory business practices is shocking nonetheless, said Rob Schofield, a director at N.C. Policy Watch, in a column today for the News & Observer:

The draft report from the House Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee released earlier this month at the General Assembly would eliminate the section’s current annual appropriation of just under $1.8 million. The proposal says that the consumer watchdog attorneys in the section would be funded in the future through something called "receipt support."

What's this "receipt support" business? If you guessed that it's a trick to make the attorneys working for us dependent upon the fines and fees they can extract from defendants - banks, corporations, and others who defraud taxpayers - you'd be right!

SCHOFIELD: Under such a system, attorneys in the state Consumer Protection Section would have a huge, new incentive to decide which cases to take and which consumers to defend based upon the kind of attorney fees and other “receipts” they could hope to wring out of the case. Put bluntly, public watchdogs would face enormous pressure to behave more like ambulance-chasing lawyers than public servants.

If your job depended only on going after large profitable businesses, why would you ever be bothered to help out consumers ripped off by, say, a local slumlord or used car dealer who lacks deep pockets? The answer is that you probably wouldn't.

If someone asked you, "Who do you work for?", you'd probably tell them the name of the person, company, or organization that pays your salary. If our out-of-control legislature gets its way, what should be an easy question for attorneys in the consumer protection unit to answer won't be so simple, says Schofield:

When state lawyers hired to serve the public interest are forced to behave like “entrepreneurs” just to keep their jobs, the table is set for all kinds of potential conflicts of interest.

Do we want the attorneys in the attorney general's Office of Consumer Protections to work for us, the taxpayers, or for the defendants they prosecute?

Why should we even be put in the place where we have to ask such a ridiculous question?

The answer is that the ideology of the politicians in charge on Jones Street demands market fundamentalism, consequences be damned:

In other words, free markets are great, but this clumsy attempt to inject them into a place in which they’ll turn public servants into “entrepreneurs” is a perfect example of how market fundamentalists are sacrificing our state government on an absurd ideological altar.

Click here to read Rob Schofield's column, "Disrupting consumer protection", and stay tuned to NC Policy Watch for more information.