Trump vs. Clinton Affects Product Safety Regulation At The CPSC More Than You Might Think.

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s election season. We would be the first to admit that you don’t often see articles about politics in PPB—and we promise this one doesn’t take sides.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is headed by five commissioners who create and enforce product safety rules for most of the consumer products in the U.S., including promotional products. How does your vote influence your company’s catalog?

Your Vote And The Promotional Product Industry

Your vote in the November election does have a big impact—but, as we will see, it’s not only your vote that matters.

CPSC is structured so that the sitting president’s party holds a three-to-two majority on the commission, so during the Obama administration, three commissioners are Democrats and two are Republicans. The next president will choose the chairman of the CPSC and that person’s party will also hold the majority of the commission. The new chairman, whoever that may be, is a powerful figure who directs the priorities and the pocketbook of the agency. Those subject areas for regulation or investigation could cover items in the promotional industry, such as lithium-ion battery products like charging packs, or something far afield from the promotional industry, like all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), playground crumb rubber toxicity or flame retardants in upholstered furniture. The CPSC has an incredibly broad portfolio and the chairman has wide latitude in directing the power of the agency.

In these pages, you have likely read articles about the current direction of the agency. The current chairman, Elliot F. Kaye, is generally perceived as having been the most aggressive CPSC chairman in a generation. In his relatively brief chairmanship, he has taken very strong enforcement stands for the agency. Just this year alone, the commission has levied the largest civil penalty in its history, $15.45 million, and is on track for another record-setting year of civil penalties. Also, this year has seen the IKEA dresser recall of more than 30 million units, a record-setting recall by number of units. Beyond these headline-grabbing events, the commission has also pressed forward on a host of other safety issues, from corded window-blind coverings to high-powered magnet desk sets and crumb rubber, among others. These issues may have an impact on your life professionally and personally.

Your Actions Matter

While the new president’s selection of a new chairman will have a big effect, that selection is really only the beginning of how the CPSC will continue to influence your business in the years to come. While your vote matters, your actions matter more.

While the commission is technically an independent regulatory agency, the reality of the commission’s decisions over the past several years is that the five votes usually follow party lines, and often reflect deep philosophic policy differences about the role of a federal regulator in society and business. Just as you see in Congress, the Republican members of the commission typically favor fewer new regulations than the Democrats. But it is not always that simple. And since citizens do not vote directly for commissioners (remember, they are appointed by the president), it is critical that the industry meet with commissioners from both parties to educate them about issues important to our industry.

Leaders in the promotional product industry have long recognized the importance that the government can have on the industry’s bottom line. This recognition, and a desire to protect its customers, led PPAI leadership to create PPAI’s Product Safety Aware initiative and to invest in its Product Responsibility Summit and other activities. PPAI’s leaders have cast a smart bet that a proactive approach in our industry will also serve the industry’s interests in Washington, D.C., and across the nation by avoiding troubling issues in the first place and by keeping controversy far away from the promotional products business.

PPAI and its members conduct an annual fly-in to Washington, D.C., to educate congressional representatives about the promotional products industry and to meet with leaders at the CPSC.  Have you joined your industry in these events or, if you cannot, have you connected with your own representative or senator? Your actions are absolutely critical. The more that your representatives know you and understand your business before a crisis, the better they can help you and relate to you during a crisis.

A Changing World

The one constant that we know is change. Inevitably there will be new products, new supply chains, new challenges, and, occasionally, new rules to play by.

Most of these new regulations are subject to what is called “public comment rulemaking.”  As part of nearly every proposal, the commission asks you, the public, for your comments before acting on any new proposed regulation. The reality, however, is that too often these proposed regulations are not widely publicized or simply get lost in the day-to-day activity of our busy lives. Some regulations are finalized after only receiving one or two comments while other proposals may receive hundreds. One way that a trade association like PPAI assists its members is by paying close attention to Washington and keeping up its relationships and reputation to try to influence proposed regulations that affect an industry like yours. Remember that CPSC employees cannot possibly know or understand every sector of the economy, so industry participation is vital.

So far, PPAI’s efforts are working and the industry is growing and thriving. Not only has PPAI established relationships on Capitol Hill, it has built and nurtured an excellent reputation with the commission and its staff. These relationships are absolutely invaluable to the industry.

What Does It All Mean?

Under PPAI’s leadership the industry has emerged as a recognized player in Washington, D.C., with a positive reputation for the industry’s economic contributions and a proactive problem-solving approach. Don’t just cast your vote and walk away in November. The conversation with Washington, D.C., is critically important and continues long after the next president is sworn into office.

Your actions are as important as your vote. Whatever you do in November, make sure that your vote is the beginning—not the end—of your engagement.

Neal Cohen, a product safety attorney, is a former small business ombudsman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He spoke at the PPAI Product Responsibility Summit in September and presented sessions previously at Summit and also at The PPAI Expo.  

Cohen currently works with manufacturers and importers to guide them in all aspects of product safety including import detentions, government investigations, product recalls, mandatory government reporting, product warnings and instructions, and product risk assessments. Prior to joining the CPSC, he was a courtroom attorney in New York City and practiced corporate law at King & Spalding LLC.



Tune In And Turn Up Your Expertise In Product Safety

Product Safety and Technology: Lithium Ion Batteries

Speaker: LaTanya Schwalb, senior project engineer at UL, LLC.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016, 1 pm CT

Webinar Overview: This course will address the critical need for safety and certification when sourcing lithium batteries. Learn what you need to look out for to keep you and your channel partners on the right side of compliance. This session qualifies as an elective under the Product Safety Aware Program.

Technology: What You Must Know For Selling Promotional Tech Products

Speaker: LaTanya Schwalb, senior project engineer at UL, LLC.

Wednesday, October 26, 1 pm CT

Webinar Overview: Tech products are one of the industry’s hottest product categories, but what do you really know about sourcing them? Here you will learn about the critical need for safety and certification when sourcing technology products. This session qualifies as an elective under the Product Safety Aware Program.

Technology: What Power Bank Standard UL 2056 Means To Your Business

Speaker: Anne Stone, director of public affairs for PPAI.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 1 pm CT

Webinar Overview: UL 2056 is a new product safety standard for power banks that was developed to protect consumers from physical harm and property damage. Manufacturers, industry suppliers and distributors must be aware of the standards and what their obligations are under the law in order to avoid expensive recalls and damage to brand reputations. This advanced session will dive deep into the intricacies of UL 2056 and provide steps for what industry members need to do to ensure compliance.

Free to PPAI members and nonmembers. Register at and click on Education and E-Learning