The Center for Study of Responsive Law (CSRL) is a nonprofit organization established in 1969 by Ralph Nader, who also founded Public Citizen and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Staffed by 25 employees, CSRL “supports and conducts a wide variety of research and educational projects to encourage the political, economic and social institutions of this country to be more aware of the needs of the citizen-consumer.”
CSRL views America as a nation rife with “barriers such as sexism, racism, homophobia, disability, ageism and class oppression.” The Center traces these alleged societal flaws in large measure to capitalism, which it views as an inherently inequitable system that causes not only the aforementioned social ills, but also widespread environmental degradation, consumer exploitation, and health problems. In CSRL’s calculus, the greed of capitalist profiteers is chiefly responsible for Americans’ high rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and smoking-related ailments — which the Center classifies as “marketing-related diseases.” According to the Capital Research Center, which rates the political leanings of nonprofit organizations, CSRL is situated near the extreme far left of the political spectrum.
In its earliest days, CSRL formed a task force to investigate what it termed “corruption and incompetence” at the Interstate Commerce Commission, the now-defunct agency that once regulated trucking and railroad rates. The Center published its findings in The Interstate Commerce Omission, by Robert C. Fellmeth, in 1970. That same year, CSRL assigned another team to document “the health hazards of air pollution made worse by irresponsible businesses and complicit politicians”; those findings were reported in Vanishing Air, by John Esposito. A 1971 expose titled The Chemical Feast condemned the Food and Drug Administration’s alleged “lax oversight of the food industry.” CSRL sold several hundred thousand copies of these reports.
As a fledgling organization, CSRL paid its workers low wages that ranged from $150 to $300 per month, but young people were nonetheless drawn to Nader’s nominally pro-consumer, anti-corporate mission. In its second summer, the Center added 200 individuals to its work force; these were selected from a pool of some 30,000 applicants eager to join the ranks of “Nader’s Raiders,” as they were dubbed. CSRL’s then-Director, Harrison Wellford, told a reporter at the time: “I think one-third of Harvard Law School applied.”
In subsequent months and years, CSRL launched new “raids” against such problems as “the nation’s worsening water pollution and the lack of an effective federal response,” publishing its findings in Water Wasteland in 1971; the “secrecy, conflicts of interest and concentration of power held by First National City Bank” (Citibank, 1971); the “indignities and frauds practiced by nursing homes” (Old Age: The Last Segregation, 1971); the “dangerous use of pesticides on agricultural crops” (Sowing the Wind, 1972); the “rampant despoliation of land in California by developers and speculators” (Politics of Land, 1972); and the “degeneration of the Community Mental Health Centers Act into a mismanaged, ineffective bureaucratic boondoggle” (The Madness Establishment, 1972). By the end of 1972 the Center had produced 17 such publications.
Since then, CSRL has published many additional books and pamphlets characterizing America as a country plagued by water and air pollution; environmental irresponsibility; countless products that harm consumers; corporate corruption and exploitation; social injustice; discrimination; and militaristic predilections. Reasoning from the premise that capitalism and globalization are the root causes of many of these problems, CSRL encourages social activism as a means of radically transforming American society. Among CSRL’s published titles are:
CSRL’s current projects include the following:
(1) The Government Purchasing Project works “to encourage the government to use its immense purchasing power to promote safe, cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environmentally-sound products.”
(2) The Resource Conservation Alliance focuses on several issues:
(a) Forest Conservation: “The forest conservation movement is working to protect habitats, certify wood products from well managed logging operations, and reduce the consumption of wood products.”
(b) Agricultural Fibers: CSRL encourages the use of agricultural fibers as wood replacements; sources of these fibers include bamboo, esparto grass, flax, hemp, abaca, kenaf, cotton, bagasse, cereal crop straw (wheat, rye, barley, oats and rice), ramie, and jute.
(c) Certified Wood: “When new wood must be purchased, consumers should specify Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. … The FSC label indicates that forests have been responsibly managed.”
(d) Recycling: “Recycled products are an excellent alternative to virgin wood, saving numerous resources — trees, landfill space, energy and water.”
(3) Freedom of Information Clearinghouse: In conjunction with the organization Public Citizen, CSRL seeks to promote and expand the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, which requires federal agencies to disclose records requested in writing by any person.
(4) DC Library Renaissance Project: Established in December 2002, this project seeks “to generate community, political, private and foundation support to improve the DC library system to a world class standard.” Specifically it aims to double the library’s funding, in order to finance physical repairs, computer network updates, and a variety of literacy programs and cultural activities.
(5) The League of Fans is “a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to encourage social and civic responsibility; local and global awareness; citizen and fan friendliness; health, safety and inclusiveness in sports culture.” The project’s “De-Commercialization” provision complains that “[t]he ongoing commercialization of sports is shifting the primary focus of games away from showcasing skill and competition, and toward simply creating another forum to sell more things.” The “Informed and Principled Consumers” provision seeks to expose the unsavory business practices of “greedy team owners,” calling professional sports “a pathological profit-seeking industry that cares little for fans or communities.” The “Personal & Global Responsibility” provision is an anti-globalization initiative that discourages athletes from signing endorsement contracts with corporations “that have [led] the push into low-wage countries with poor human rights records for the purpose of profitable exploitation.”
CSRL receives financial support from the Abraham Fuchsberg Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the PLACE Fund, the Public Safety Research Institute, and the Safety Systems Foundation. As of 2005, CSRL’s net assets totaled approximately $23.66 million.