It is an unlikely alliance: Beverly Moore is a veteran of the front lines of public interest law, an attorney who lives on the brink of poverty as he battles well-fed corporate lawyers; Stanley Cotton is a real estate marketing and ad expert whose credo is "We're in it for the money."
Together Moore and Cotton have a plan to shake up the business establishment through Moore's Citizens for Class Action Lawsuits. The group believes in the wisdom of C. Wright Mills' observation: "It is better to take one dime from each of 10 million people at the point of a corporation than $100,000 from each of ten banks at the point of a gun. It is also safer."
In the Sixties, concurrent with the emergence of the consumer movement, class action lawsuits became a vehicle by which large numbers of people could recover losses inflicted by corporations found to be fixing prices, defrauding customers or practicing itger antitrust actions. But recent court decisions have diluted the power to bring such suits, and Moore would like to change that.
His targets: courts and Congress, both of which can pave the way for lawsuits with clout; those suits, Moore hopes, will force the changes he thinks he and his colleagues have failed to realize in the last decade.
"The regulatory approch doesn't seem to work," says Moore, who thinks if companies have to pay for the social costs such as inflation, pollution or occupational disease they inflict, remedies will be found much more efficiently than by relying on bureaucratic standard-setting.
Enter Stanley Cotton. The man who once filled jars with $10,000 worth of shredded currency and sold them through the mail for $6, the man who almost convinced the Democratic National Committee to raise funds by means of a national sweep-stakes, Cotton sees a chance to market Moore's movement.
"One ad will have six Supreme Court justices with their heads turned backwards, three with their heads straight," says Cotton with some glee. "The copy line will read: "When the Supreme Court of the United States turns it's back on Americans, it's time to do something about it.'"
Moore and Cotton also hope to place blunt newspaper ads in the home districts of congressmen who have voted to hamstring the effectiveness of class action suits, running the congressman's photo with copy accusing him of being anti-consumer. Their war chest will come from direct mail solicitation, beginning with a list of presumably receptive persons: 900,000 consumers in the West who received rebates as a result of a massive, successful class action suit against antibiotic companies accused of price-fixing.