The first Nader’s Raiders were seven law students and recent graduates assembled by the consumer advocate Ralph Nader in the summer of 1968 to undertake a study of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The group investigated the agency’s activities with great thoroughness. The journalist William Greider, then a Washington Post reporter, gave the group its name, and the label stuck. Although Nader initially complained that the name rang of the “cult of personality,” he later admitted that it brought the group valuable publicity.
The Raiders’ 185-page report issued in January 1969 spared no one. It called for a total revamping of FTC practices and personnel and received extensive press coverage. President Richard Nixon asked the American Bar Association (ABA) to appraise the performance of the FTC; ultimately the students’ report—and the ABA appraisal that followed—sparked a congressional investigation and a major overhaul of the agency.
The success of the group established a pattern for subsequent teams that would work with Nader on similar projects. In 1969 about a hundred undergraduate and law students, most from Ivy League schools and many from affluent families, were hired to investigate an array of areas of government and corporate abuse, including mine safety, the health hazards of air pollution, and the oversight of the food industry by the Food and Drug Administration.
Although the Raiders earned only modest pay, competition for those jobs quickly grew fierce. By 1970 more than three thousand students had applied for two hundred summer jobs. In subsequent summers new investigations examined worsening water pollution and the lack of an effective response from the federal government, the indignities and frauds practiced by nursing homes, the dangerous use of pesticides in agriculture, and bureaucratic mismanagement under the Community Mental Health Centers Act.
Charged with researching the performance of key government agencies and previously ignored social problems, those task forces produced reports that forced the federal power structure to take notice. The Raiders’ impact can be measured by the fact that their first four reports had combined sales of over 450,000. By 1972 the Raiders had completed seventeen books. Their practice of providing both particulars and meticulous documentation made their reports hot copy. The fact that they were largely students exposing instances of government foot-dragging, special-interest collusion, corporate malfeasance, and outright corruption made the reports compelling. Reflecting later on revelations of environmental pollution and government scandal in the Nixon and Reagan administrations, Nader commented that in hindsight the reports were “quite understated” (Bollier 1991, Chap. 1).
Nader used the proceeds from the settlement of an invasion of privacy lawsuit he filed against General Motors in 1970 to extend the Raiders’ size and reach. He funded a network of consumer groups that provided training grounds for political activists and lawyers. After their work with Nader some Raiders went into private law practice, where they represented the interests of injured consumers and workers, helping to generate an increase in tort lawsuits in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of those lawsuits redressed real wrongs, for example, by recovering damages for victims of the Ford Pinto, which became notorious for exploding and burning when rear-ended. Businesses claimed, however, that many of those lawsuits were filed on unjustifiable grounds, clogging the courts and leading to outrageous verdicts, particularly when they involved punitive damages.
SEE ALSO Consumer Protection; General Motors; Interest Groups and Interests; Nader, Ralph; Privacy
Bollier, David. 1991. Citizen Action and Other Big Ideas: A History of Ralph Nader. Washington, DC: Center for Study of Responsive Law. http://www.nader.org/template.php?/archives/7-Citizen-Action-and-Other-Big-Ideas-By-David-Bollier.html.
Bowen, Nancy. 2002. Ralph Nader: Man with a Mission. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century Books.
Graham, Kevin. 2000. Ralph Nader: Battling for Democracy. Denver, CO: Windom Press.
Martin, Justin. 2002. Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.
NADER'S RAIDERS. In 1968, the consumer advocate Ralph Nader and seven law students began investigating the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Washington Post dubbed this group "Nader's Raiders" after they testified before an FTC hearing. For the next several years, Nader recruited hundreds of idealistic college students and lawyers to work with his Center for Study of Responsive Law. This organization criticized the Interstate Commerce Commission and Food and Drug Administration and focused national attention on a variety of issues, such as elder care, occupational safety, and the misuse of natural resources. "Nader's Raiders" stimulated important reforms, particularly in the FTC, and spearheaded the American consumer movement during the 1970s.
Richard R.Benert/e. m.