By Cheryl Bolen
June 28 — Steps are needed to counter the influence of industry over the rulemaking process, which undercuts the public interest over time, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said.
“The goal should be to have a system where influence over new rules is measured not by how much money someone can spend, but who has the better argument,” Warren told a forum sponsored by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and Public Citizen.
Warren, considered a potential running mate to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, is a long-time champion of overhauling the regulatory process so that it tilts toward the public interest.
“A new administration presents new opportunities to push for the strongest rules that protect American workers, consumers and families,” Warren said.
Engaging in informal dialogue and participating in the notice-and-comment process are not inherently bad actions, Warren said.
“But, over time, bludgeoning agencies into submission undercuts the public interest,” she said.
Regulators should be beholden to the American people, not corporate benefactors, Warren said.
Cracking down on the so-called revolving door and ending “golden parachutes” for executives who enter government service would help, Warren said.
Warren said she supported several changes to the regulatory process, starting with disclosing all meetings between an agency and interested parties before and during the rulemaking process.
Another would be to help agencies distinguish between legitimate, high-quality data and research on the one hand, and “bought-and-paid-for studies on the other” by requiring disclosure of financial arrangements associated with all industry comments.
Leveling the playing field between public and private interests also would help, Warren said.
“The net effect of a notice-and-comment process dominated by business advocates is that severely under-resourced public interest advocates are just simply outgunned,” she said.
Some states have experimented with building a public-interest advocate into the regulatory process or compensating public-interest advocates to produce meaningful feedback on rules, Warren said.
Similarly, judicial review of agencies needs to be overhauled, to give the public a fighting chance to challenge weak rules, agency inaction and agency capture, Warren said.
Also, simplify. Complex rules take much longer to produce, are harder for the public to understand and usually contain more carve-outs that favor large businesses, she said.
Finally, if agencies are going to be independent, they must have enough money to do their jobs, Warren said. Writing rules, responding to thousands of comments and separating valuable data from “nonsense” takes capable people with adequate resources, she said.
“Starving the regulators is the quickest way to ensure that this work is essentially outsourced to the regulated industries themselves,” she said.
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