California Progress Report Receives Consumer Journalism Award

by Frank Russo, California Progress Report

Recipients of awards from the Consumer Federation of California for
2008 from left to right, Senate President pro Tem Elect Darrell Steinberg,
California Progress Report publisher Frank D. Russo, former Assemblymember and
State Senate candidate Hannah-Beth Jackson, CFC founder and former President of
the California Federation of Labor Albin Gruhn with attendant, Assemblymember
Mark Leno, and Assembly Judiciary Chair Dave Jones. Not pictured, Senator Alan
Lowenthal. Photo by Russell Collins Stiger

I was deeply honored to receive the Consumer Federation of
California’s 2008 Consumer Journalist Award
on behalf of the California
Progress Report in a ceremony in the basement of the state Capitol cafeteria.
Others honored by the CFC, a consumer organization founded in 1960, included a
number of my heroes, and the audience of over 100 included many distinguished
guests and representatives of organizations I cherish. I joked that over half
of the crowd had written articles for the California Progress Report’which in
fact was accurate.

What makes this award particularly memorable to me is that
the CFC last bestowed this award on former Chronicle consumer reporter David
Lazarus, who now writes for the Los Angeles Times. I consider Lazarus a giant
in the field of business and consumer reporting.

Started in 2006, the California Progress Report has featured
over 40 stories under the topical
heading of consumer rights
and hundreds of articles on food safety,
privacy, health care, the environment, toxic exposure, law, responsible
lending, and other areas that touch upon consumer issues. All of these can be accessed
by topic or in the archives of the site which has over 3,500 articles.

I have authored many of these articles and have had an avid
interest in consumer rights since I wrote legislation as a young lawyer working
in the state Capitol for an Assemblymember in the 1970’s to legalize price
advertising of eyeglasses and provide consumer information.

But the California Progress Report has depended on others
with expertise in areas such as Rosemary Shahan, President Consumers for Auto
Reliability and Safety, Zack Kaldveer who writes on privacy legislation and
issues for the CFC, Executive Director of the CFC Richard Holober, who is
prolific in his writings and presentations to the legislature in this area, the
California Disability Community Action Network, Consumer Watchdog, Consumers
Union, and dozens if not hundreds of others. It takes a community to try to
cover issues of importance to consumers in California and I feel we are only scratching
the surface of what needs to be brought to life. So, I want to thank others for
making this possible’this is a joint project’and there are many of you in my
heart and mind when I think about this award’including all of those honored in
CFC’s annual legislative reception. Keep those articles and ideas coming.

Others honored included:

Assemblymember Dave Jones ‘ 2008 Consumer Champion Award.
Jones is Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and authored important
privacy legislation designed to protect Californians from identity theft signed
into law by the Governor last year. These included AB 1168, requiring the
Franchise Tax Board, the Secretary of State, and all 58 county recorders to
truncate SSNs in records they hold so that no more than the last 4 digits are
displayed to the public. Jones also wrote AB 1298, signed into law requiring
notification when one’s helath information falls prey to a data breach.

Assemblymember Mark Leno ‘ 2008 Consumer Leadership Award.
Leno most recently authored the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights which was
passed by the California State Assembly earlier this month and will protect
passengers from lengthy delays on the runways without basic necessities such as
clean water, food, access to clean bathrooms, lights and fresh air.

Senator Darrell Steinberg ‘ 2008 Consumer Leadership Award.
Steinberg is, among other things, the author of SB 1629, the Early Learning
Quality Improvement Act, which would establish a Commission to create a state
Early Learning Quality Improvement System. This includes a quality rating scale
to help parents make informed decisions about programs for their children, and
a graduated funding model to help existing and future preschool programs reach
and maintain higher levels of quality. He has championed many consumer causes
as an Assemblymember and State Senator’too many to list– including those in
mental health and SB1522 which would set standards for coverage, weed out
"junk" insurance. SB 1522 passed its policy committee earlier this
month and is pending before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senator Alan Lowenthal ‘ 2008 Consumer Champion Award.
Lowenthal has a background as a civil rights attorney and as a law professor.
He has fought for legislation making it easier for cell-phone owners to do such
things as terminate their contracts, transfer their phones to different
carriers and dispute billing discrepancies and on unsolicited ‘instant loan’
checks sent to consumers. He authored SB 525, signed into law by the Governor
last year, allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles to order restitution to
consumers when it is suspending or revoking the license of a motor vehicle

Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak out California‘ 2008 Consumer Voter Education
Award. ‘The award is recognition for your leadership in raising public
awareness about consumer rights,’ said Richard Holober, President of the
Federation, in informing Jackson
about the award. As a member of the Assembly, Hannah-Beth Jackson authored the
toughest financial privacy legislation in the nation as well as bills that
increased protections against identity theft, including the Consumer’s
Financial Privacy Act (AB 203), the Financial Privacy Act of 2002 (SB 773),
Identity Theft (SB 168) and Drivers’ License: Identity Theft (AB 1474). She is
also the author of the Car Buyer’s Legal Equality Act (AB 2656), which protects
auto buyers from unknowing waiving consumer rights to a dealer. She writes
frequently about consumer issues on her website.

Last, but not least, the Consumer Federation of California awarded its
Lifetime Achievement Award
to Albin Gruhn. Gruhn, 94 years of age, founded the
CFC in 1960 and who was the head of the California Labor Federation back in the
60’s. Gruhn, introduced by CFC President Jim Gordon who was an officer of the
Communications Workers of America union, held forth without notes for what
seemed like half an hour with a history of how labor started the Consumer

There is a proud and long history here. CFC not only
campaigns for state and federal laws
and appears before the California State
Legislature regularly, it also supports regulations that are consumer focused.
Recent CFC legislative issues include protecting consumer financial privacy;
reforming accounting industry practices; enabling patients to sue HMOs for
denial of care; holding homebuilders accountable for construction defects;
prohibiting manufacturers from keeping secret vital safety information about
defective products; enacting cell phone users’ rights, and strengthening food
safety laws. The CFC is currently led by Executive Director Richard Holober,
who is running for the State Assembly in the June primary. Good luck, Richard!