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 Do you think that bill should be repealed?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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