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Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Dealer Fee, Bestiality, and Tallahassee Politics

The Dealer Fee, Bestiality, and Tallahassee Politics

My frustration and disappointment in the combination of resistance and indifference to my efforts to get a bill through the Florida legislature making the Dealer Feel illegal is assuaged somewhat by an article I read in last Friday’s PB Post, “Bestiality bill finds slim support.”. You can read this article by copying and pasting this link into your Web browser, Dealer Fee and Bestiality Similarities. The absurdity of Florida’s legislature’s resistance to passing a law making it a felony to have sex with animals gives me solace about my difficulty with making the dealer fee illegal. Most states already have a law against having sex with animals [Mississippi, Florida, and a few others don’t] and 13 states already have a law prohibiting or capping the dealer fee. It just takes some states longer to “see the light” than others.

I wrote my first column about my frustration with Florida politics for the February 1st Hometown News. I expressed my frustration with not being able converse with Senator Jeff Atwater about why the dealer fee should be made illegal. If you missed that column, Politics, the Dealer Fee and You, you can read it now by clicking on www.EarlStewartOnCars.com.

That issue of the Hometown News was delivered on Friday, February 1, and Senator Jeff Atwater called the following morning on my cell phone! We met in person shortly afterwards for almost two hours in my office. He also appeared on my Saturday morning one-hour talk show [Seaview AM 960 9-10 AM] one week after that. You can listen to the dialog between the Senator and me by clicking on www.SeaviewAM960.com, then “Earl Stewart”, and finally the date of the show, February 9. Senator Jeff Atwater was very supportive during the approximately 25 minutes we discussed the problems with the Dealer Fee.

After appearing on my radio show, Senator Atwater advised me that I should meet with Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. This committee was reviewing the Senate Investigative Report on the Dealer Fee that was commissioned by Senator Ken Pruitt. I met with Senator Diaz de la Portilla at a Sheraton Hotel in Dania and flew to Tallahassee the following Tuesday and testified before his committee. I was given plenty of time to tell Chairman Diaz de la Portilla and the other members of his committee why the Dealer Fee should be made illegal in Florida. I answered all their questions and passed out copies of my talk as well as examples of illegal and unethical auto ads in the Palm Beach Post. You can read my remarks by clicking on www.EarlStewart.com and then Results Of Florida Senate Dealer Fee Investigation. You can also see a video of this event depicted in the WPTV, Channel 5 Contact 5 report by clicking on Contact 5 Investigation: Dealer Fees.

This brings us up to the present situation which can best be described as “political premeditated gridlock”. Let me explain. When a politician doesn’t want a bill to become law, he doesn’t overtly oppose it. He covertly opposes it by utilizing his superior knowledge of the political system. His tools are many. Not returning phone calls or emails is a great and common tool. Everybody knows how busy politicians are how can we possible blame them for not answering emails or returning phone calls? Another tool is to let our ignorance of the system work against us until we derail our own cause. For example, I just learned that there is no way a bill introduced by the Senate can become law unless a House bill is simultaneously created. Now everybody knows that…Senator Jeff Atwater knows that, Senator Ken Pruitt knows that, and Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla knows that. I majored in Physics in college and didn’t take any courses in Political Science because, back then [1959-1964], Political Science was considered a “crib course”. I thought that the Senate formulated a bill which was then passed along to the House for consideration and modification. Finally, it was sent to the Governor for signing or a veto. I was wrong.

I have numerous emails and phone calls in to Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla but no responses so far. When we met he told me that he personally supported my views on the Dealer Fee. I want to know why he didn’t ask a House of Representatives colleague to sponsor a House version of his committee’s bill. Or at least suggest that I try to do the same. I spoke with Ann in Senator Ken Pruitt’s office. She told me that she would gather as much information as possible on the status getting a House sponsor. Her boss, Ken Pruitt is the current President of the Senate [Jeff Atwater will be the next President]. This is the most powerful position in Tallahassee, arguably more so than the Governor. Even though Ken Pruitt technically can’t interfere with the Commerce Committee or the House sponsorship of a Dealer Fee bill, commons sense tells me there are “ways” he could grease the wheels. One thing I’ve learned is that the Senate and House “staffs” often exercise influence that would not be considered appropriate for the politician himself. This allows the Senator or Representative to maintain “deniability”.

To find a House sponsor, I’ve spoke to, my district Representative, Carl Domino. I must say that of all politicians I’ve called, Carl returned my call faster than anyone. In fact, he called me from his home. Unfortunately Carl told me he cannot sponsor this bill. To be honest, I didn’t really expect him to. The Florida Automobile Dealers Association, FADA, lobbying organization is a strong supporter of Carl’s and, if he supported the abolition of the Dealer Fee it would be political suicide. Senator Domino can’t take chances offending big campaign contributors because he is in a very close race for reelection. Carl Domino told me that each House member can sponsor only 6 bills and that his deadline for sponsoring bills ended in February. So, for whatever reason, I have to find myself another House sponsor. I am working on this as we speak, but the chances of getting anything done in this legislative session are slim.

The good news is that, if we don’t get anything done this year, I’ve very confident we will in 2009. The grassroots support from car buyers is growing like a Tsunami. The media is picking up on it more and more every day. National media has expressed interest as well as newspaper editorial staffs. We got our political baptism of fire in 2008 and we are forged for victory in 2009.

I don’t want to come across like a cynic when I speak of the Florida legislature, the FADA, and the different Senators and Representatives I’ve been dealing with. That’s the system and they are a part of the system. I’ll close with an email I recently sent to a friend in response to an email he sent me expressing frustration with the political process:

Thanks, Ken.

This kind of thing only reinforces my belief that the USA is a miracle. There was something supernatural or Godly about the formation of our country, the Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution.

Somehow, in spite of the majority of the voters being uninformed and/or ignorant and most of the politicians being more concerned about pandering to them for their reelection than doing what’s right, we have the greatest country on Earth.





Friday, March 07, 2008

A Victorious First Step toward Outlawing the Dealer Fee

My appearance before the Florida Senate Commerce Committee went quite well last Tuesday, March 4.

The Senators allowed me all the time I needed to make my presentation. I gave them copies of newspaper ads illustrating my objections to the dealer fee and copies of my presentation.

Many of the Senators on the committee asked me questions which were very supportive and positive.

Several representatives from the Florida Automobile Dealers Association [FADA] testified, including dealers Chris Craft from Tallahassee and Herb Yardley from Stuart and Ted Smith the President of FADA. The committee was negative toward most of their testimony and this was reflected by the Senators’ questions. Several Senators challenged the speakers on their misstatements of fact and obvious contradictions.

The Senate committee is preparing a bill which will be sent to the House for endorsement and then to Governor Crist to be signed into law. I don’t expect anything drastic like making dealer fees illegal but I do feel that there will be a lot more disclosure required and I do feel there will be a lot more enforcement of the existing and new law. This is not to say that I will settle for this kind of compromise, but it’s a first step of a long journey until we outlaw the Dealer Fee.

But we have to keep the pressure on because in Tallahassee (just like Washington D.C.), “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”. Bills have a way of dying a natural death before they can become law. It’s a long, rocky road between the Senate Commerce Committee and Governor Crist’s office. I will continue to push, with your vital support, for the outlawing of the Dealer Fee, this license to steal from Florida’s car buyers.

Please call [and encourage others to call] our “NO DEALER FEE HOTLINE”, 1-800 909-9879 and visit our Web page www.NoDealerFee.com.

Below are my comments to Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla and his committee.

Comments to Florida Senate Commerce Committee
Tuesday, March 4, 2:30 PM, Tallahassee


My name is Earl Stewart. I was born in Ft. Lauderdale, FL in 1940. I graduated from PBHS in 1958, University of Florida in 1963, BS Physics, and Purdue University, 1964, MSIA. I worked for Westinghouse for four years as an Electronics Engineer. I jointed my father in business in 1968. He founded Stewart Pontiac in West Palm Beach in 1937. I’ve been primarily in the retail automobile business for the last 40 years. I’m currently the sole owner and general manager of Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach and have been in the same location for the last 33 years. My three sons are employed in my business and my wife, Nancy, is also involved part time.

I’ve been a member of the SFADA and the FADA for my entire career and have serviced as a director for both organizations and on the Executive committee of FADA. I am currently chairman of the board of FLADCO, a Florida dealer-owned cooperative buying company.

(1) What’s bad about the dealer fee?

(a) In most cases the customer either does not know he paid the dealer fee or believes it is some kind of federal, state, or local “official fee”.
(b) In practice dealers do not include the dealer fee in the price of the car that is quoted to the customer. It isn’t included in Internet quotes and also not in verbal quotes over the telephone or in person.
(c) Although Florida law says that the dealer fee must be included in the advertised price, this is not happening in most cases. In the first place, there is virtually no enforcement of this part of the law. I’ve shown Senators Jeff Atwater and Alex Diaz de la Portilla copies of auto classified ads flagrantly violating this part of the law addressing dealer fees. Those dealers who do technically comply, get around it in practice by what I call “the old stock number trick” [Explain].
(d) There is no cap on the dealer fee and each dealer chooses whatever fee he likes. There is no one name for the fee. The Senate Investigative Report discovered 22 names and they only scratched the surface.

(2) Why the existing Dealer Fee Law is a Bad Law?

(a) It is written in such a way that dealers’ legal counsel have advised them “If you charge one customer a dealer fee, you must charge all customers the same fee”. Now, when the rare very astute consumer questions the legitimacy of the dealer fee, the sales person is instructed to reply, “All dealers charge this fee” and “We are required by law to charge everybody this same fee”.
(b) There is a provision that a “group ad” does not have to include the dealer fee in the advertised price. The argument for the exception to this part of the law on advertised prices is that it would be “too confusing” to list all of the different prices resulting from different dealer fees by different dealers.
(c) The law does not address ads which show discounts from MSRP instead of an actual price. Because the MSRP is standardized, a discount from MSRP is no different than a quoted price.
(d) The law allows dealers to advertise just one car at the advertised price. Dealers don’t disclose this by using an obscure alpha numeric code, usually included along with all of the listed options and accessories. This, unknown to the reader of the ad, is a “stock number” which means that the dealer is advertising only this one car at the price which includes the dealer fee. A typical stock number looks like this…#A23554B. The ads often also say, “12 more models available at this price”. But the other models are not the advertised car and now the dealer can add the dealer fee on top of the advertised price. Car salesmen are not paid a commission on this advertised car. Car salesmen work on 100% commission and have no incentive to sell an advertised car. In fact, their incentive is to be sure that you buy a different car. The odds of a customer actually being able to buy an advertised car are “slim and none”.

(3) What is my true motivation for opposing the Dealer Fee?

(a) I strongly believe that I’m doing the right thing. The dealer fee is a profit to the dealer…pure and simple. The law alludes to it covering certain costs of the dealer and requires that the dealer so state next to his dealer fee, but this is fallacious. When a customer pays me a sum to cover one of my expenses, she is increasing my profits. Saying that a customer should pay for a dealers cost of paperwork or preparation of the car is no different than saying the customer should pay the salesman’s commission, the dealer’s advertising, or part of his power bill. Any business’s overhead costs should be priced into the price of its product…not passed along to their customer separately from the pricing of their product.
(b) Because all car dealers have different dealer fees and some range up to at least $1,000, we cannot compete fairly on a level playing field. I am unable to advertise prices because those dealers who have dealer fees can understate their real price, knowing that they can add their dealer fee on at the last minute. For example, a Toyota Yaris with an MSRP of $15,145 has a profit to the dealer of only $584. Al Hendrickson Toyota in Coconut Creek, FL has a $999 dealer fee. This dealer can advertise a new Yaris for below his cost and make better profit than I can if I advertised and sold the car at MSRP.
(c) Our customers should have the right to shop and compare prices of cars just like they do TV’s, refrigerators, computers, or any other product. The Monroney label made a standardized MSRP the law for new car manufacturers over 50 years ago. The purpose for this law was to give the consumer the ability to accurately compare prices between different car dealers. If a car buyer is considering a Chevrolet Impala with a specific MSRP, he can shop for the dealer who gives him the biggest discount. Now, with virtually every dealer adding a dealer fee of a different amount, the intent of this federal law is circumvented.
(d) I would be less than honest if I didn’t confess that I’m benefiting from the positive publicity I get by opposing the dealer fee. If I’m not successful, I’m still a winner because the car buyers of Florida do agree with me. Any dealer could achieve the same status as I by unilaterally giving up the dealer fee.
(e) Car dealers rank among the most vilified businesses and professions. Along with lawyers and politicians, we are commonly ridiculed by comedians like Jay Leno and David Letterman. My sons will take over my business one day and I have four grandchildren who may continue it even further. My oldest son, Earl III, told me something a few years ago that I will never forget. He said that he enjoyed working for me and he enjoyed his job very much but what was most important to him was that he was proud to tell his son, Jake, my grandson, what he did for a living.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Senate Commission on Dealer Fee

My appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee went quite well yesterday.

The Senators allowed me all the time I needed to make my presentation. I gave them copies of newspaper ads illustrating my objections to the dealer fee and copies of my presentation.

Many of the Senators on the committee asked me questions which were very supportive and positive.

Several people from the Florida Automobile Dealers Association testified, including dealers Chris Craft and Herb Yardley and Ted Smith the President of FADA. The committee was negative toward most of their testimony and this was reflected by their questions. Several Senators challenged the speakers on their misstatements of fact and obvious contradictions.

The Senate committee is preparing a bill which will be sent to the House for endorsement and then to Governor Crist to be signed into law. I don’t expect anything drastic like making dealer fees illegal but I do feel that there will be a lot more disclosure required and I do feel there will be a lot more enforcement of the existing and new law.

Please check out the article that appeared in today's Sun-Sentinel about yesterday's hearing:

Senate panel takes up crusade against auto dealership fees
By Joshua Hafenbrack
Tallahassee Bureau
March 5, 2008
TALLAHASSEE
In South Florida car dealer Earl Stewart's ubiquitous TV ad testimonials, he likes to point out he doesn't charge "dealer fees." He even started a radio show and a blog to rail against the fees charged by many of his competitors in Palm Beach and Broward counties.They're the often-hidden costs — running $500 or more in many cases — tacked onto a car's price once customers are hauled into a back office to fill out financing papers.Now Stewart's fight against dealer fees has moved to the state Legislature, with a Senate committee agreeing Tuesday to craft consumer protections that would require greater transparency about the fees that usually aren't included in price quotes or Internet advertising.Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, Stewart, who owns a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, said dealer fees are meant to obscure a car's real price from customers and pad dealers' profit margins."It prohibits the legitimate dealer from competing on a level playing field," said Stewart, a
Fort Lauderdale native whose family has been in the car business in South Florida since 1937.After hearing testimony from South Florida car dealers on both sides of the issues, the Senate panel moved to draft legislation to require dealers to disclose dealer fees in their cars' sticker prices.This approach doesn't go as far as 13 other states that have capped dealer fees, with limits ranging from $45 to $250, according to Senate investigators.Herbert Yardley, whose owns Massey Yardley Chrysler Jeep in Plantation, said the $599 dealer fee he charges is just one part of arriving at a car's overall price, a process he described as an "art, not a science." "I don't know that the state does belong in pricing," Yardley told senators. "Please let pricing be an individual issue."Josh Hafenbrack can be reached at jhafenbrack@sun-sentinel.com or 850-224-6214.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD: OUTLAW THE DEALER FEE!

You can help us make the “DEALER FEE” Illegal in Florida.

If you call our No Dealer Fee Hotline, you can voice your opinion on the Dealer Fee, to the Florida Senate Commerce Committee.

They are conducting a hearing this Tuesday, March 4th, in Tallahassee to hear consumers views on whether this “license to steal” should be made illegal in Florida, as it has in 13 other states.

Click on http://www.nodealerfee.com/ for more information.

PLEASE DIAL 1-800-909-9879