Consumerist Interviews Former Senator Mike Gravel, Rogue Presidential Candidate

Of all the presidential forerunners, Mike Gravel might be the one most likely, or the one who most needs, to read The Consumerist. He’s done battle with the credit card industry, and creditors, both in public office and in private life.

Off the radar since his 1981 senatorial re-election defeat, the former Senator Gravel (D-Alaska) is a clear long-shot. Still, history will remember Gravel for running a five-month filibuster that lead to the draft expiring during the Vietnam War, and for inserting the Pentagon Papers into the public record.

On Tuesday night we chatted with Mike over drinks at Manhattan’s Commodore Grill.

CONSUMERIST: One issue that comes up in the Consumerist a lot is credit card industry reform. Do you think they’re predators?

GRAVEL: The credit card industry. Look, they are predators… I just had an overdraft protection– they were charging us 19 percent– and I went there and paid it all off. They wouldn’t close my account that day. Before I finally could, they charged me another 34%… even though I’d already paid off the credit card. Now, how are you gonna deal with corporations that screw you like that? You can’t, it’d be too expensive. So you pay it, even though you feel violated.

CONSUMERIST: Do you have specific ideas for reforming the industry?

GRAVEL: Gosh, that would be like Sarbanes-Oxley. Those ideas would take a lot of study. We should appoint people in positions of power to address that subject straight on.

CONSUMERIST: In April of 2005, the Senate passed the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act, which made it harder for Americans to fight predatory lending. Do you think that bill should be repealed?

GRAVEL: I’ve been bankrupt. And I gotta tell you, do I know the problem. That law was all for the benefit of the credit card companies. So obviously, that has to be changed. And we haven’t had a Congress that can put the interest of the average person ahead of corporate profits.

He went on to say the other Senators and ex-Senators running for President are rich and can only say, “I understand your problem.” He expressed deep concern about being able to trust the other candidates on bankruptcy and consumer protection, saying that only he would “know the right people,” to appoint to the administration.

CONSUMERIST: You and Republican Congressman Ron Paul, also running for President, agree on at least one thing: a progressive National Sales Tax, a.k.a. the Fair Tax.

GRAVEL: The most serious domestic problem we have is our system of taxation, which is unfair to the average American and really, in particular, does damage to the poor. And what we have to have is a system where the people know it’s fair, that it has total transparency. The only way we can turn this country around is by having a revenue system wherein the people can stop what they’re doing… they spend more than they earn. We cannot afford to do that, we’re courting disaster. So, if you turn around and give them an incentive to save, not to spend, which is what a national sales tax does, then we can begin to turn around the fundamentals of our country.

What about a national sales tax, like the high VAT tax on purchases in Europe and other countries? Would it work, as Gravel suggests, to do away with income taxes and impose a national sales tax, say, 25-percent? — BRIAN FAIRBANKS


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  1. charrington says:

    Who’s Mike Gravel?

  2. randalotto says:

    Mike Gravel rocks.


  3. Moff says:

    > Then again, if he can’t manage his own personal finances well enough
    > to stay out of bankruptcy, is really he qualified to lead the country?

    I don’t know if that’s exactly fair. At the very least, I’d like to hear how long ago he was bankrupt — we have a tendency in this country to hold people responsible forever for mistakes they made in the past, while at the same time giving lip service to the obviously true notion that you can’t learn anything if you don’t screw up once in a while. He’s candid about the bankruptcy, and a bankruptcy isn’t so cut-and-dry that we don’t need some backstory before we can judge.

    Also, there have been many presidential candidates who may not have been capable of managing their finances but who didn’t have to, because they were born into money. I’m not knocking them for that, and I’m not stumping for Sen. Gravel here — I’m just responding to the reporter’s question.

  4. ACruzer says:


    I would disagree. It depends on the person, some people we let get away with many things.. say cocaine usage.. among other things. Its the curse of being who we are, shiny things distact us… That and scandals.

  5. ACruzer says:


  6. hubris says:

    I love Mike Gravel. He was the best part of the recent Democratic debate on CNN. I would totally vote for him if given the chance.

  7. phantomoftheopry says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t wasn’t able able to make it make it past the first two sentences sentences.

  8. mac-phisto says:

    i will never support a candidate that calls for a national sales tax. period.

    there’s nothing progressive about pumping more money into an already bloated system. progressive would be to correctly manage the trillions of dollars we already flush down that abysmal sewer. progressive would be replacing the thieves & cons & profiteers with respectable & honest folks.

    sales tax does the exact opposite of what this tool claims. it takes more money out of the hands of consumers to be delegated to others arbitrarily by a group of nonsensical clowns whose collective common sense wouldn’t outweigh a single feather.

    bah! don’t mind me, i’ve had too much coffee this morning.

  9. yellojkt says:

    I would rather have a president that has been financially bankrupt than one that is still morally bankrupt.

  10. anatak says:

    I totally agree. He probably knows more about managing money than the leaders we’ve elected who put us trillions of dollars into debt.

    The national sales tax is not in addition to our current tax system. Job 1 of t… system (which is what he’s talking about) – Abolish the IRS. I was skeptical at first, but the more you read, the better it sounds.

  11. mac-phisto says:

    @anatak: listen, i understand how the tax is supposed to be implemented, but the fact is that if it is implemented, it will be in addition to income tax.

    the IRS will stand & instead of a 25% national sales tax (or whatever), we’ll see somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-4%. this is nothing more than a cheap smoke & mirrors trick.

  12. PhilK says:

    @mac-phisto: That’s not at all what Gravel wants. Now whether the asshole weasels in Congress and the IRS will use it that way, as just another way to raise taxes, who knows.

    I can prove to you how unfair the current tax system is. I got to deduct almost 1/3 of my income this year, because of using all the available deductions I could get legally. Any of my friends at the 30-40k/year mark can’t afford an accountant to do that for them or a house to get them those deductions. IMO that’s pretty unfair since they need the money way more than I do.

    Think about how many pages there are in the current tax code (you don’t want to know). Is it fair that there’s an extra class that understands those and can use the loopholes to their advantages? Do you really think as long as the IRS exists and rich people run the country that they’ll set up the laws so they have to pay their fair share of taxes?

    I’m opposed to taxes anyway, because it’s armed robbery. But if you’re going to accept the evils of taxation, at least it should have a semblance of fairness.

  13. anatak says:

    OH! well, thats different, then since you seem to have such a firm grip on the “facts”.

    for everyone else (and since it got replaced by … in the last post) –

  14. ikazuchi says:

    For those who want a quick primer on the FairTax, it replaces all current federal taxes (not state or local) and replaces them with an inclusive (i.e. added into the price, not added at the register) sales tax of ~24%. This tax is the equivalent of costs that are already inherent in the products (added due to corporate taxes, research of tax implementation, etc.). It will also make people who currently do not pay into our current tax/extortion system pay taxes (criminals, illegal residents/tourists, tourists, and others).
    There is also a ‘prebate’ that would cover the cost of basic necessities for every person.
    It irks me that many people hear either a deliberately false version of the plan or refuse to learn the whole of the concept of the FairTax.

  15. pronell says:

    I love how everyone who can’t seem to do math is fiscally conservative these days.

    Actually, notice that people self-identify as fiscally conservative, then vote for in _droves_ for a guy who offers them a $200? And that’s not a Republican attack… they probably would have voted for a Democrat if they offered up a little personal bribe. And if he was a recovering alcoholic, so they could have a beer with him. Okay, that last bit _was_ a Republican attack.

    Just reminds me of the study that showed when you’re bad enough at something, you think you’re a goddamned genius.

    And mac-phisto… “i understand how the tax is supposed to be implemented, but the fact is that if it is implemented, it will be in addition to income tax.”

    What in the hell? I’m glad you made up your mind about never voting for the guy… because you don’t seem to believe the system can EVER be changed.

    I wish these “not a penny more” idiots would get their head out of the sand and deal with reality. We have debts, and _big_ ones, and unless we CUT COSTS or RAISE REVENUES it will only get worse.

    And ya know something? Mike Gravel actually has some ideas on how we can do both, would you imagine that?

    He wants to end the drug war, legalize, regulate, and tax them.

    Oh, but that’s right… that wouldn’t happen either, so there’s no point in supporting someone with *IDEAS*.

  16. mac-phisto says:

    @PhilK: i too am flustered by the tax code. it is much more difficult than it needs to be. even so, i don’t believe a sales tax is any more fair than an income tax. generally, the lower 2/3 (in terms of income) spend the most anyway (in terms of percentage of income), so i fail to see how taxing consumption shifts the scales. generally, richer people save a larger percentage of their income, so how is this not another tax break for the top tier?

    as for whether or not it’s fair that someone can circumvent taxes if they can afford to hire someone to navigate the tax code for them…i dunno. is it fair that someone can circumvent laws if they can afford to hire someone to navigate laws for them? same argument, different kangaroo court.

    @anatak: it’s about government, not facts. there will never be enough votes to replace income tax with a sales tax . there’s plenty of votes to support a sales tax, but not enough to eliminate the income tax. hence, a sales tax will be implemented, but the income tax will not be repealed. all you have to do is listen to the current rhetoric on the hill to read between the lines. there’s plenty of support for a national sales tax in the 2-4% range, all they need is some dimwit who thinks they’re going to revamp the entire tax code to introduce it. by the time the watered-down version exits committee, the abolishment of the irs will be eliminated.

  17. mac-phisto says:

    @pronell: i’m sorry i don’t share your idealism. i live in a state with the highest tax burden in that nation (conn.). in 1991, we were stupid enough to allow legislators to enact a short-term income tax to solve a budget deficit. that income tax was supposed to sunset a decade ago. this year, it’s going up (again) along with gas taxes, sin taxes, property taxes, etc.

    change is never revolutionary (without, of course, a revolution), it is incremental. to expect more is…naive.

  18. pronell says:

    Sorry, man, but idealism is the only thing that makes living in a Democracy worthwhile. It might be a bit of an illusion, but it’s all we’ve got.

    And personally, I’m enough of an asshole to say that we ought to tax the people making a ton of money until we can balance our budget. Always.

    In the meantime, we need to throw out the entire tax code, stop the war on drugs AND the war in Iraq, reform the way education is funded in the country, and reform the Farm Bill.

    Is it _naive_ to expect that this can be done? No, it’s realistic. Is it native to think it WILL be done?

    Yeah, I’ll grant you that. But I’m not going to dismiss the only actual _progressive_ candidate just because I don’t think his ideas will get implemented.

    We’re headed for a brick wall as it is, and I think drastic solutions are all that is left.

    But honestly? I think climate change is going to kick our asses. It will destroy entire economies, and the loss of farming land will lead to mass famines. I don’t think we can change it now… we can only mitigate the effects. THAT is the kind of shit that I see as inevitable, and throwing out a bloated tax system is vastly improbable, but something that can actually be accomplished by people _today_.

  19. Imhotep says:

    The only candidate worth voting for.
    He has REAL solutions to our societies worst problems, and has the balls to deal with them, and stand up to special interests to get things done FOR the people; like abolishing the IRS, which btw is illegal and unconstitutional.

    Go Gravel!

    *…stepping off soapbox now, K thx Bai!

  20. swalve says:

    mac-phisto: Most VAT and flat tax proposals include generous credits for low income people. Something like $25,000 for single, $50,000 for a family. You’d get a refund check every month (or something like that). Do you know how a VAT works? Every level of production is taxed on how much Value is Added, ie, gross profit.

    My only problem with consumption based taxes is that every dollar that such a tax would cause to be “saved” is a dollar removed from the economy and put into the banks’ hands. Banks grow, commerce goes down. And the banks want to invest that money in commerce, which isn’t growing. It could be troublesome for the economy. I think it would tend to cause deflation.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a flat tax on all income though. The fact that high income people are gouged (via progressiveness and the AMT), while a nearly free pass is given to the high-net worth people because capital gains tax is lower than the income tax, is aggravating.

  21. Jaysyn was banned for: says:

    Mike Gravel has some really great ideas. If he makes it to the ballot, I’ll be voting for him.

    Have you even read any of Mr. Gravels stances on the various issues or are you just spouting drivel?

  22. Jaysyn was banned for: says:

    I’m @ the 30-40k mark & I have no problems getting an accountant to do my taxes. I get *way* more back, plus I get to write the cost of the accountant off.

  23. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    This guy’s man enough to admit his mistakes and be honest about it. That’s the kind of guy I want running this country, and if I was a human resources guy, I’d hire this guy in a heartbeat.

    But yeah, abolish the IRS, get rid of the income tax, and switch to a consumption-based system. Uh Switzerland has this system, and guess what? They have a higher GDP per capita than we do. The highest GDP per capita is at Luxembourg, which as far as I know is considered a tax shelter.

  24. Rydax says:

    Is no one here familiar with Mike Gravel’s other ideas? He has been working on a National Initiative for the past 10 years now. It is a federal ballot initiative similar to the state and local initiatives this country already has. When the National Initiative is passed, then Mike would turn to the people to vote for the Fair tax. Congress wouldn’t have to approve it because the American people would. If the American people didn’t approve it then Mike would either try to convince the people, or rewrite the system, not take it to congress. With the National Initiative Mike could ask the American people to vote for the things he proposes.

  25. WSUCanuck says:

    I don’t know, i’m thinking we just need to spend the money that our government does get wisely. Right now its just a giveaway to defense corporations and powerful Senators who need 20 submarines built in their state. I don’t like the flat tax and i’m slightly less skeptical of a VAT or national sales tax.

  26. mac-phisto says:

    @Jaysyn: yes, i’m quite aware of mr. gravel, but more important than his stances are his abilities to pass his programs thru congress. after all, democracy is about compromise. his platform whithers once you take this into account. he has a lot of great ideas, but he is only one man. before he even gets a chance to sign his ideas into laws, his bills have to pass thru various legislative committees & subcommittees & two houses of congress that get to shred his initiatives however they see fit before they vote. if the bill even reaches his desk again, it will bear no resemblance to his original idea.

    other people understand how this works, right?

  27. smcneil says:

    In terms of getting Gravel’s ideas through Congress, you should look at his Direct Democracy proposals to give voters the ability to pass binding laws via the National Initiative.

  28. mac-phisto says:

    @smcneil: that’s for the national initiative. which, incidentally, i also don’t support. direct democracy is a great idea, but read over section 4 of the democracy act (electoral trust). NOBODY in our current system of gov’t will have the same power as the representatives within this group.