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Industries Paid for Top Regulators' Travel
The records show that Nord and Stratton repeatedly accepted gift travel for events from industries subject to CPSC enforcement. In February 2006, the Toy Industry Association provided Nord with rail fare, two nights in a hotel, meals -- and even $51 to pay her Union Station parking bill -- to attend the American International Toy Fair in New York, one of the industry's biggest product exhibitions.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Joan Lawrence, the association's vice president who oversees toy safety, said that "I have heard some enforcement officials say that they consider attending vital" because "they are able to see new products before they hit retail shelves" and suggest safety improvements. She added that "approximately 50 percent of the CPSC budget is used for children's products."
But Lawrence could not say why, given the importance of the event and the industry, the agency did not pay for its own travel. "If they came up with the money, that's okay," she said. "The educational component, of course, is our priority, and that's why we pay for the chairman."
Vallese, the CPSC spokeswoman, said Nord gave two speeches at the meeting, toured "new toy exhibits," watched "product demonstrations" and participated in "product safety discussions."
In a presentation to a trade group of product regulators and manufacturers last year, Nord said the agency was "working aggressively" to limit deaths from residential fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, according to an account published on the group's Web site. She noted that "fuel-fired heating equipment" is linked to more than 300 deaths a year.
Makers of that equipment are represented by the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, for which Stratton, Nord's predecessor, was a guest speaker at two annual meetings. In 2003 Stratton spoke at the group's meeting on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. In 2005, he spoke at its annual meeting in Orlando.
The meetings drew more than 300 manufacturers' representatives and spouses for seminars, a dinner dance and golf. While the association's manufacturers are regulated by three other government agencies, its vice president, Joseph Mattingly, said he could not recall paying for any attendees from those agencies.
Stratton said: "My view was we needed to engage industries and not only tell them what we expected but also to learn what they were thinking. . . . You can't do that sitting in the ivory tower at the CPSC."
The records also detail several trips that were paid for by lawyers who represent manufacturers in product liability lawsuits.
In February, for example, Nord accepted more than $2,000 in travel and accommodations from the Defense Research Institute to attend its meeting in New Orleans on "product litigation trends," according to her report. The institute is made up of more than 20,000 corporate defense lawyers. In 2004, Stratton attended the group's meeting in Barcelona, at a cost to the group of $915 for his hotel room.
"They are the biggest government agency that would have impact on the stuff that we do," said Steve Coronado, a former chairman of the group's product liability committee, which has 3,000 members. "They've been very cordial and accommodating and gracious," he said of the agency's past three chiefs.
Coronado said that Nord was the group's main presenter in New Orleans and that she briefed 1,000 lawyers about "what their processes and procedures are, rules and regulations changes." He added: "I don't think it was a very politically oriented presentation." A CPSC spokesman did not respond to a request for direct comment by Nord on this trip and others.