Tuesday, July 13, 2010

“General” Bill McCollum; Shame on You!

We elected Bill McCollum to be our Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer in Florida. Unfortunately, it seems that the only thing he has on his mind is being Governor of Florida. His actions in the AG’s office have suggested that he’s had this on his mind since his first day on the job as Florida’s Attorney General. From the get-go, he chose businesses and individuals to prosecute based on how much publicity it would generate and not on the negative impact on Florida’s citizens. A good example was the large sums of money he spent on, what seemed like thousands of TV commercials paid for by us taxpayers, featuring himself as the “protector” of Florida’s children from child molesters. Our money would have been better spent had he featured pictures of convicted, freed sex offenders than himself.

If there was any question how bad Bill wants to be governor, all you have to do is turn on your TV. Within 2 minutes you’ll see Bill and Rick (Scott) calling each other crooks and liars in political commercials. Rick Scott, a very wealthy businessman, has spent about $15M so far and Bill is catching up fast. In fact, he has caught up so fast that the PB Post wrote an editorial accusing him of using illegal campaign fund raising tactics. Suing the U.S. government over the new Health Care bill passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama was pure grandstanding. Every legal scholar knows that it has no legal merit and the purpose is to garner votes for governor.

Of course, my axe to grind with Bill McCollum is his politically motivated decision to give car dealers who practice unfair and deceptive advertising and sales tactics a “free pass”. The strong lobbying groups, the Florida Automobile Dealers Association (FADA) and the South Florida Auto Dealers Association (SFADA) have always supported Bill McCollum as have many individual dealers. Do you really think that car dealers give large sums of money to Bill McCollum because they want to protect the citizens of Florida? This is partially true because they do want to protect some citizens…those who are car dealers. And they want to protect those car dealer citizens from having the Florida Attorney General enforce the laws of Florida, specifically the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act as it specifically pertains to car dealers.

If you live anywhere in Florida, all you have to do is pick up your local newspaper and take a look at the auto classified section. Saturday is the best day to look because almost every car dealer likes to advertise on Saturday. In these ads you will see many ads that are actually illegal. Dealers advertise prices that don’t include their dealer fee which is required by Florida law. They advertise prices that don’t include “freight” which is already included in the price of the car by the manufacturer. They deduct what your down payment must be from the “price” they advertise understating the price by $3,000 or $3,500. They also deduct rebates from the price that you can only qualify for if you are a recent college graduate, an active member of the military, or if you drive the same make of car that they sell. This is all clearly illegal but I know of no dealer who has been charged with any of this.

It’s not like Bill McCollum can’t easily check any newspaper in the state, even from Tallahassee. He can do this online or he has AG representatives in every major community in the state. Also, what I just described to you happens just as blatantly on TV, radio, and in direct mail advertisements. The electronic ads are even more flagrantly deceptive. The fine print on TV is illegible and is flashed on the screen for such short time that you couldn’t read it if it were legible. The verbal disclosure is almost comical. They use a subdued voice and speed up the tape with the obvious intent of making it unintelligible.

Car dealers know that they can run any kind of advertisement and use any kind of deceptive sale tactic they want without fear of prosecution. This encourages the “bad guys” to run even more illegal ads. Another negative consequence is that this “hear no, see no, speak no evil” policy of our Attorney General forces the “good guys” to advertise in ways that they don’t like but feel they must. Imagine for a minute that you are a Nissan dealer. Your closest competing Nissan dealer advertises cars below his cost. If you sell a car for the price he advertises you will lose thousands of dollars. The way he gets away with this is by adding back in $3,000 + $740 + $799 + $500 to the advertised price. The $3,000 is the down payment the customer must pay. The $740 is the freight that the manufacturer has already included in the price once. The dealer fee is required by law to be included in the price. The $500 is only if you are a graduate of a 4 year accredited college within the last 6 months. The price the prospective customer sees in the ad is understated by over $5,000! If the “honest dealer” advertises his car in the newspaper at a price that he can make a profit on, he will drive business to the dealer who knows he can advertise anyway he wants without fear of prosecution. So the “good guy” has no recourse but to become a “bad guy”. He rationalizes this by saying that survival is our strongest instinct.

General McCollum, I would be happy to discuss this with you by phone or in person. If I’m off base, please set me straight. One thing you might want to do is pick up a Saturday copy of the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, PB Post, or Miami Herald and read through the auto classified ads. Let’s talk about those ads if you’re not too busy slinging mud at Rick Scott. By the way, I’m not a supporter of Rick Scott.
You might be pleasantly surprised how much you would impress Florida voters if you cleaned up car dealer advertising and sales practices so that Florida car buyers wouldn’t be terrified to enter a showroom, as most are today.

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