Wise business leaders keep their eye on the state attorneys general — if the federal government can’t or won’t move to protect consumers, the AGs often will make the moves.
Investigations and oversight can begin in an individual state — such as California in the toy case — or with a small group of AGs in a coalition or working group. (New York and New England AGs work together to reduce the effects of acide rain they claim come from midwestern coal-burning electric plant emissions.)
And significant campaigns — leading to global settlements such as the Big Tobacco cases — often result from the universe of state attorneys general working through NAAG, the National Association of Attorneys General. NAAG has working groups — including one on predatory lending — and the smaller AG coalitions and the issues they focus on can quickly emerge into a national force for change through NAAG.
State laws are often more potent bases of action than federal laws or rules — NY AG Eliot Spitzer went after Wall Street’s big players using state law (The Martin Act) that preceeded 1930s federal financial markets protective legislation. In fact, President Franklin Roosevelt and his brain trust were quite familiar with the investor protection laws of the 1920s and used key elements for the 1933 an 1934 securities protection legislation.
The AG office is often a springboard for higher office — the former AGs of New York, Michigan, Arizona, and Washington State now occupy the statehouse as governors.
So yes, there is some politicking in the AG pursuits — but there is often also a genuine pursuit of creating positive change to protect the state’s consumers.
Smart corporate managers (and boards) will not ignore the AG’s call for change or solutions –as you see here in this LA Times story, management at Mattel (California-based)is engaged with AG Jerry Brown. Good move for all involved — including consumers at the toy counter.
Remember, when the feds can’t or won’t the state AGs are on the move. And often they have the ammunition such as California’s Proposition 65 or NY’s Martin Law to pursue their cases. And, the cases brought often have amicus or co-filers and supporters from advocate communities.
Stay Tuned to this story — California is home to key toy marketers (including Disney), the portal through which Asian-made toys flow to US stores, and home to a wide range of advocacies capable of mounting ambitious public campaigns targeting companies they think are holdouts in reforms and solutions to societal problems.