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Why do we hate debt collectors? Mistaken identity

You expect to hear from a debt collector when you don't pay your bills. But what do you do when you get calls or letters from a collection agency for a debt you don't owe?

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

We testify on data breaches again | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, I testify in the House Financial Services Committee in the latest hearing on the Target data breach. As I did in the Senate last month, I will try to shift the debate from the supposed need for a "uniform national data breach notification standard" to more important issues, such as improving consumer rights when they use unsafe debit cards to ensuring that standards for payment card and card network security are set in an open, fair way that holds banks and card networks accountable for forcing merchants and consumers to rely on inherently unsafe, obsolete magnetic stripe cards.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Camp Corporate Tax Proposal Would Make Offshore Tax Dodging Easy for Large Multinationals

At a time when multinational giants are shifting profits offshore at an alarming rate to avoid billions in taxes, Chairman Camp’s bill would make our loophole-ridden corporate tax code even worse. Congress should take aggressive measures to crack down on tax haven abuse – like those put forth by Senator Levin in the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act – instead of expanding the loopholes.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

DOT Report on Infrastructure Needs Overstates Future Increases in Driving

The new US Department of Transportation forecast of future driving doesn't make sense given current trends and other official forecasts. The result may be billions wasted for unneeded highway expansion and more neglect of bridge repair, public transit and biking.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Drug Company’s $193M Settlement for Misconduct May Become Big Tax Write-Off

A new factsheet from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group documents how health care and pharmaceutical corporations are able to write off the payments they make to settle charges of wrongdoing, such as fraud, on their taxes.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Tax

Oregon Legislature Closes Offshore Tax Loopholes

Oregon's legislature unanimously passed stand-alone legislation to address the growing problem of companies using offshore tax havens to dodge state taxes. The new legislation will treat income that companies list in tax haven countries as domestic income for Oregon tax purposes, saving the state millions in tax revenues.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Tax

"Clean Slate" Tax Debate Downplays Importance of Billions Worth of Offshore Loopholes

U.S. PIRG applauds Finance Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch for challenging lawmakers to justify dozens of tax breaks that benefit well connected special interests at the expense of average taxpayers. As the Senate scours the tax code for wasteful tax breaks for special interests, closing offshore tax loopholes should be at the top of every lawmaker's list.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Section of Voting Rights Act

Yesterday, in Shelby County v Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 4 was a critical piece of legislation that helped ensure the ability of eligible voters to cast a ballot regardless of race, age or gender, and the Court’s decision is a blow to voters’ rights.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Food

House Rejects Farm Bill Loaded with Subsidies to Big Agribusiness

The failure of this Farm Bill is a wake-up call: The House now has the chance to make serious changes to this legislation. Our elected leaders should stand up for taxpayers, not Big Ag, by ending wasteful subsidies once and for all.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Food

House Narrowly Rejects Modest Bipartisan Measure to Limit Subsidies for Largest Agribusinesses

U.S. PIRG opposes the House Farm Bill (H.R. 1947). Like the Senate’s proposed Farm Bill, this legislation would keep the gravy train flowing for big agribusiness, locking in their unjustified corporate handouts for the next five years. The House rejected even modest amendments to reduce subsidies for the most profitable agribusinesses. The Kind-Petri amendment, which would have cut off certain subsidies for agribusinesses with high incomes, failed with a narrow 208-217 vote. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Best Elections Money Can Buy

One of American democracy’s most pressing problems is that large contributions—which only a fraction of the American public can afford to make—unduly influence who can run for office and who wins elections in the United States. In 2000, 94 percent of the candidates who raised the most money won their general election contests.1 In the 2002 congressional primaries, 90 percent of the biggest fundraisers emerged victorious.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Wealth Primary 2002

Our analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance data for the 2002 election cycle indicates that money played a key role in determining election outcomes and that the majority of campaign contributions came from a small number of large donors (many of whom reside out-of-state).

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Contribution Limits And Competitiveness

For years, academics, political theorists, and campaign finance reformers have debated the causal relationship between campaign contribution limits and the outcome of elections. Some argue that limiting campaign contributions amounts to "incumbent protection;" others contend that limits make challengers more competitive. This study is the first of its kind to comprehensively examine the states with contribution limits and empirically measure changes in competitiveness.

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Report | VPIRG | Public Health

Hidden Hazards

Polymer clays are a form of modeling clay that have become popular in recent years among children, adolescents and adult craftspeople. Unfortunately, these clays contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) mixed with phthalate plasticizers. While the phthalate plasticizers make the clay soft and workable, they are also associated with potential health risks. Phthalates as a class of chemicals have been implicated in birth defects, reproductive problems, nerve system damage and other negative health effects.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Who's Watching The Watchdogs?

Conflicts of interest and lack of independent funding have doomed both the national and state level accounting oversight systems in the United States. The current Enron-Arthur Andersen debacle is illustrative of larger problems in the accounting oversight system. This report examines potential conflicts of interest in the 51 (50 states and the District of Columbia) state agencies with regulatory authority over accountants, known as the state boards of accountancy. It finds complicity between the boards’ lapdog bite and their overwhelming dominance by accounting insiders.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Senate Wants to Pass Dangerous Just Open Bucket Shops Act (so-called Jobs Act) | Ed Mierzwinski

You may not remember any pre-2008 scandals -- dot.com bubble?; Enron scandal? --  since they are so yesterday's news. Don't worry. The House and Senate don't remember, either. If the Senate has its way with quick passage of the misnamed already-House-passed Jobs Act, -- better named by the New York Times columnist Gail Collins as the "Just Open Bucket Shops Act" -- conflicted analysts will make stuff up again, government watchdogs like the SEC and PCAOB will be chained, and small and novice investors will be looking at "crowd-funded websites" from good guys and bad guys, too, including often-fraudulent Chinese IPOs. Things are so bad that the Senate's leading investor champions aren't even sure they can get enough votes to modify the proposal -- let alone block it -- even with a compromise alternative (letter from PIRG-backed AFR/CFA). Only in Washington.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

50 Years Ago This Week, JFK Ushered in Modern Consumer Protection Era | Ed Mierzwinski

I've got a new column at Huffington Post, "50 Years Ago This Week, JFK Ushered in Modern Consumer Protection Era." I discuss President Kennedy's visionary "Special Message to the Congress on Protecting the Consumer Interest" announced on March 15, 1962. He declared that consumers have rights and government should protect them. Read the full column after the jump.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

FTC: Credit Bureaus Pressure ID Theft Victims To Buy Overpriced, Underperforming Credit Monitoring Packages | Ed Mierzwinski

A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff report confirms what we've known all along: The big credit bureaus pressure identity theft victims into buying overpriced, underperforming credit monitoring subscription packages.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Congress in zombie-like push to weaken investor laws and other consumer news | Ed Mierzwinski

After House passage of the mislabeled Jobs Act, action shifts to to the Senate in a misguided, PIRG-opposed bi-partisan effort to weaken investor protection laws. SF Chronicle financial columnist Kathleen Pender and the NY Times ed board both rip the idea. While Congress appears trapped in a zombie-like fugue state, pretend zombies led by Iowa PIRG (WHO-TV Des Moines) marched against nuclear power this weekend. All this and more consumer  news of the week, in case you missed it.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Consumer fraud summit today will be webcast | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATE: LINK TO C-SPAN WEBCAST ARCHIVE (My PANEL here and entire event here.)

In times of financial calamity, fraudsters come out to take your last dollar. This afternoon U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will host a consumer financial fraud summit (agenda) at Georgetown Law School near Union Station bringing together enforcers from the DOJ, FTC, state agencies and consumer groups. I'll be on a panel discussing business opportunity frauds. Other panels will be on elder fraud and tax scams. The event is free and open to the public and will be webcast.

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