The Center for Study of Responsive Law was founded by Ralph Nader in 1968 as his principal office. Since then it has sponsored a wide variety of books, organizing projects, litigation and has hosted hundreds of conferences focusing on government and corporate accountability. One of the Center’s primary goals is to empower citizens. The Center focuses on a variety of environmental, consumer and worker health and safety issues.

In June 1968, Ralph Nader formed his first task force of crusading students, comprised of seven law student volunteers, the group began looking into the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a sleepy bureaucracy entrusted with protecting consumers from shoddy products, fraudulent business practices and deceptive advertising. The young but resourceful task force members prowled the hallways of the Commission talking with staffers and top officials, and discovered an agency “fat with cronyism, torpid through an inbreeding unusual even for Washington, manipulated by the agents of commercial predators, impervious to governmental and citizen monitoring.”

When the Nader FTC report was released in January 1969, Senator Abraham Ribicoff praised its youthful authors (and implicitly indicted the press and his own institution, the Congress): “Bureaucracy being what it is, I am fascinated by your ability to get in so deep, and get so much information. I am sure that you gentlemen are the envy of the large number of reporters here.” The report eventually triggered a major revamping of the FTC headquarters and its field offices. As if to signal its transformation, the Commission soon thereafter launched a major investigation of the structure and practices of the food industry.

By 1969, Nader had become a known, trusted and admired presence in the nation’s political life. Inspired by the success of the FTC report, thousands of idealistic students clamored to work for him. Out of the crush of admirers, Nader began hiring a handful of dedicated, bright young people to amplify his efforts. Charged with looking into the performance of key government agencies and researching ignored social problems, Nader’s ad hoc task forces were soon turning out explosive reports that made official Washington sit up and notice. Journalist William Greider, then a reporter for the Washington Post, dubbed the investigative SWAT teams “Nader’s Raiders,” a tagline that stuck. It was a term that Nader initially disliked, believing that it trivialized the study groups and prompted a cult of personality. He later conceded that Greider’s coinage gave the students’ exposès a certain panache and publicity-draw.

By the summer of 1969, Nader decided he needed a standing institutional home for his special brand of citizen action. With the help of Gordon Sherman and other funders, Nader founded his first group, the Center for Study of Responsive Law. Work at “the Center” was intense, and the pay modest ($150 to $300 a month). Yet few summer jobs in Washington in the late 1960s and early 1970s had as much cachet and challenge.

By the second summer, 200 “Nader’s Raiders” were selected from among 30,000 applicants. “I think one-third of Harvard Law School applied,” Harrison Wellford, then the director of the Center, told a reporter. The task forces were charged with investigating corruption and incompetence at the Interstate Commerce Commission, the now-defunct agency which regulated trucking and railroad rates (The Interstate Commerce Omission, by Robert C. Fellmeth, 1970); documenting the health hazards of air pollution made worse by irresponsible businesses and complicit politicians (Vanishing Air, by John Esposito, 1970); and exposing the Food and Drug Administration’s lax oversight of the food industry (The Chemical Feast, by James Turner, 1971). It is a measure of the Raiders’ impact that their first four reports had combined sales of over 450,000.

Nader presented the reports he sponsored as exemplary exercises of citizenship designed to inspire others to do the same. “Can we diminish or lose our rights,” he asked rhetorically, “if we do not use them with some degree of constancy?” Besides exposing unseemly conduct, Nader considered the task forces a model for transforming society — “a social innovation that will produce just and lasting benefits for the country as these young people generate new values and create new roles for their professions.” For the generation that earnestly exhorted its peers to “give a damn,” Nader proposed a means by which one person could make a difference. “Almost every significant breakthrough has come from the spark, the drive, the initiative of one person,” Nader declared. “You must believe this.”

In subsequent summers, new “raids” were launched against the nation’s worsening water pollution and the lack of an effective federal response (Water Wasteland, by David Zwick and Marcy Benstock, 1971); the secrecy, conflicts of interest and concentration of power held by First National City Bank (Citibank, by David Leinsdorf and Donald Etra, 1971); the indignities and frauds practiced by nursing homes (Old Age: The Last Segregation, by Claire Townsend, 1971); the dangerous use of pesticides on agricultural crops (Sowing the Wind, by Harrison Wellford, 1972); the rampant despoliation of land in California by developers and speculators (Politics of Land, by Robert C. Fellmeth, 1972); and the degeneration of the Community Mental Health Centers Act into a mismanaged, ineffective bureaucratic boondoggle (The Madness Establishment, by Franklin D. Chu and Sharland Trotter, 1972). Seventeen books had been completed by 1972.

Since Nader had modest funds with which to finance the proliferating study groups, he paid people in psychic instead of real income. The students received their own bylines, participated in their own press conferences, and were given the opportunity to develop their own expertise and reputations. “Ralph replicated himself through his own selflessness,” is how Mark Green, one of Nader’s first protégées and closest collaborators, described it; he helped new leaders to be born.

The inspiration came directly from Thomas Jefferson, who had written, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves.” But Jefferson, of course, could not have envisioned how monied special interests, official secrecy, procedural complexities and the brute size of the nation would erode the sinews of government accountability. Nor could James Madison, author of the famous Federalist No. 10 essay, have predicted how competing special-interest factions might not yield the public good, contrary to his predictions. The creation of a organization to represent the people as a whole — “the public interest” — was a bold, innovative development in American politics at the time. It represented a creative attempt to reclaim Jefferson’s faith in “the people themselves.”

Unlike muckrakers of the past who took satisfaction in unmasking scandal and then moving on, Nader wanted to experiment with new strategies of citizen action and establish organizations that could empower “the little guy.” As for his political agenda, he once described his hopes for “nothing less than the qualitative reform of the Industrial Revolution.” As a Harvard-trained attorney with a encyclopedic memory and stern moral conviction, Nader had a keen appreciation for the dynamics of unaccountable power in American society. Equally important, he saw that the consumer — active, informed, questioning — could play a critical, transforming role in making business, government and other powerful institutions more accountable to the American people.

CSRL Books

The Air Net: The Case Against the World Aviation Cartel, by K. G. J. Pillai (Grossman Publishers).

The Nader Report on the Federal Trade Commission, by Edward F. Cox, Robert C. Fellmeth and John E. Schulz (Grove Press).

The Chemical Feast: Report on the Food and Drug Administration, by James S. Turner (Grossman).

The Interstate Commerce Omission: The report on the Interstate Commerce Commission, by Robert C. Fellmeth (Grossman).

Vanishing Air: The Report on Air Pollution, by John C. Esposito (Grossman).

Beware, by Ralph Nader (Law-Arts Publishing).

Old Age: The Last Segregation[the report on nursing homes], by Claire Townsend (Grossman).

The Water Lords: The Report on Industry and Environmental Crisis in Savannah, Georgia, by James M. Fallows (Grossman).

Water Wasteland: The Report on Water Pollution, by David Zwick and Marcy Benstock (Grossman).

What To Do With Your Bad Car: An Action Manual for Lemon Owners, by Ralph Nader, Lowell Dodge and Ralf Hotchkiss (Grossman).

The Workers: Portraits of Nine American Job Holders, by Kenneth Lasson (Grossman).

The Closed Enterprise System: The Report on Antitrust Enforcement, by Mark J. Green with Beverly C. Moore, Jr. and Bruce Wasserstein (Grossman).

Small — on Safety: The Designed-in Dangers of the Volkswagen, by the Center for Auto Safety (Grossman).

Sowing the Wind: The Report on Food Safety and the Chemical Harvest, by Harrison Wellford (Grossman).

Whistle Blowing: The Report on the Conference on Professional Responsibility, edited by Ralph Nader, Peter Petkas and Kate Blackwell (Grossman).

Who Runs Congress? The President, Big Business or You?, by Mark Green, James M. Fallows and David Zwick (Bantam Books).

Bitter Wages: The Report on Disease and Injury on the Job, by Joseph A. Page and Mary-Win O’Brien (Grossman).

Coal Mine Health and Safety: The Case of West Virginia, by J. Davitt McAteer (Prager Publishers).

Citibank: Ralph Nader’s Study Group Report on First National City Bank, by David Leinsdorf and Donald Etra (Viking/Compass).

The Company State: The Report on DuPont in Delaware, by James Phelan and Robert Pozen (Grossman).

The Consumer and Corporate Accountability, edited by Ralph Nader with Jean Carper (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich).

Corporate Power in America, edited by Ralph Nader and Mark J. Green (Grossman).

Damming the West: The Report on the Bureau of Reclamation, by Richard L. Berkman and W. Kip Viscusi (Grossman).

The Discarded Army: Veterans After Vietnam, by Paul Starr (Charterhouse).

The Monopoly Makers: The Report on Regulation and Competition, edited by Mark J. Green (Grossman).

Politics of Land: The Report on Land Use in California, by Robert C. Fellmeth (Grossman).

A Public Citizen’s Action Manual, by Donald Ross (Grossman).

You and Your Pension, by Ralph Nader and Kate Blackwell (Grossman).

Clouded Progress: An Evaluation of the HUD Residential Solar Energy Program, by Thomas Stanton, Stuart Gabriel and Peter Maier (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

The Last Stand: The Report on the National Forests, by Daniel R. Barney (Grossman).

The Madness Establishment: The Report on the National Institute of Mental Health, by Franklin Chu and Sharland Trotter (Grossman).

The Paper Plantation: The Report on the Paper Industry in Maine, by William C. Osborn (Grossman).

Working on the System: A Comprehensive Manual for Citizen Access to Federal Agencies, by James R. Michael with Ruth Fort (Basic Books).

The Brain Bank of America: An Inquiry into the Politics of Science, by Philip Boffey (McGraw-Hill).

Citizens’ Guide to Nuclear Power(Center for Study of Responsive Law).

The Other Government: The Unseen Power of Washington Lawyers, by Mark J. Green (Grossman).

Proudly We Hail: Profiles of Public Citizens in Action, by Kenneth Lasson (Grossman).

The Spoiled System: A Call for Civil Service Reform, by Robert G. Vaughan (Charterhouse).

American Universities: Who Pays for Them, Who Runs Them, and Who Profits from Them?(Public Citizen).

Outer Space and Inner Sanctums: Governments, Business and Satellite Communication, by Michael Kinsley (John Wiley & Sons, Inc).

Shadow Government: A Report on the Private Management of Government, by Daniel Guttman and Barry Wilner (Pantheon Books).

Talking Back To Business: Voiced and Unvoiced Consumer Complaints, by Arthur Best and Alan Andreasen (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Taming the Giant Corporation: How the Larger Corporations Control Our Lives, by Ralph Nader, Mark Green and Joel Seligman (W.W. Norton & Co).

Tax Politics: How They Make you Pay and What You Can Do About It, by Robert M. Brandon, Jonathan Rowe and Thomas Stanton (Pantheon Books).

Verdicts on Lawyers, edited by Ralph Nader and Mark Green (Thomas Y. Crowell).

For The People: A Consumer Action Handbook, by Joanne Manning Anderson (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley).

Lost Frontier: The Marketing of Alaska, by John Hanrahan and Peter Gruenstein (W.W. Norton & Co.).

More Holes Than Net: A Critical Evaluation of HUD’s System for Catching and Deterring FHA Lender Misconduct, by Peter L. Maier, Courtland J.W. Troutman and Thomas H. Stanton (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

The Menace of Atomic Energy, by Ralph Nader and John Abbotts (W.W. Norton & Co.).

Myths and Realities: Nuclear Power, Nuclear Bombs, by James Cubie (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Nuclear Plants: The More They Build, The More You Pay, by Ron Lanoue (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Public Scholars Research Bank: 112 Proposals for Academic Research in the Public Interest, edited by Louis J. Sirico, Jr. (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Settle For Less: The Expensive Failure of HUD’s Real Estate Practices Staff, by Courtland J. Troutman, Thomas Stanton and Peter Maier (Housing Research Group).

For Sale or Rent: A Crucial Study of Newspaper Real Estate Sections, by Gail Rubin, Peter Maier, Josh Spielberg and Charlie Donaldson (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Flying Dilemmas: Consumer Problems and Complaint Mechanisms for Airline Passengers, by Patricia Kennedy (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

The High Citadel: The Influence of Harvard Law School, by Joel Seligman (Houghton Mifflin Co.).

A Proposal for a Tenant Resource and Advocacy Center(Center for Study of Responsive Law).

How to Talk Back to the Telephone Company: Playing the Telephone Game to Win, by Louis J. Sirico, Jr. (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Hucksters in the Classroom: A Review of Industry Propaganda in Schools, by Sheila Harty (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Good Works: A Guide to Social Change Careers, (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Banding Together: How Check-Offs Will Revolutionize the Consumer Movement, by Andrew Sharpless and Sarah Gallup (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Disposable Consumer Items: The Overlooked Mercury Pollution Problem, by John Abbotts (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Energy Conservation, by Kevin O’Brien and David Corn (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

When Consumers Complain, by Arthur Best (Columbia University Press).

Yours For The Asking: A Cornucopia of Free Information You Can Obtain on Health, Food, Housing, Energy And Money, edited by David Corn and Randi Vladimer (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Eating Clean: Food Safety and The Chemical Harvest(Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Good Works: A Guide to Social Change Careers, by Kathleen Hughes (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

No Holds Barred: The Final Congressional Testimony of Admiral Hyman Rickover(Center for Study of Responsive Law).

A Citizen’s Guide to Lobbying, by Marc Caplan (Dembner Books).

Bank Deregulation: How Far Do We Go? Proceedings and Papers from a Public Policy Forum(Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Leaving Them Defenseless: Reagan’s Drive to Destroy Nursing Home Law and Order, by Kathleen Hughes (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

The Postal Precipice: Can the U S Postal Service Be Saved?, by Kathleen Conkey (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Reagan in the Workplace: Unraveling the Health and Safety Net, by Philip J. Simon (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Returning to the Jungle: How the Reagan Administration is Imperiling the Nation’s Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, by Kathleen Hughes (Center for the Study of Responsive Law).

Women Take Charge: Asserting Your Rights in the Marketplace, by Nina Easton with preface by Ralph Nader (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Making Change? Learning from Europe’s Consumer Cooperatives, by the Ralph Nader Task Force on European Cooperatives (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Public Domain, Private Dominion: A History of Public Mineral Policy in America, by Carl J. Mayer and George A. Riley (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books).

Being Beautiful: Deciding for Yourself, prepared with the assistance of Katherine Isaac (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Of Meters and Misfeasance: What You Should Know About Utility Metering and Billing Errors, by Brandon F. Greene and Show Mao Chen (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

The Real David Stockman, by John Greenya and Anne Urban (St. Martin’s Press).

Eating Clean 2: Overcoming Food Hazards — A Consumer’s Guidebook, prepared by Katherine Isaac and Steven Gold (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

More Action for a Change (A History of the Public Interest Research Groups), by Kelley Griffin (Dembner Books).

Goliath: Lloyd’s of London in the United States, by Joanne Doroshow and Adrian J. Wilkes (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Intolerable Alternatives: The Problem With Alternative Compensation Systems, by Catherine Mauzy and Joanne Doroshow (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

The Home Book: A Guide to Safety, Security and Savings in the Home, prepared with the assistance of Elizabeth Hax (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Troubled Waters on Tap: Organic Chemicals in the Public Drinking Water Systems and the Failure of Regulation, by Duff Conacher and Associates (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Women Activists: Challenging the Abuse of Power, by Anne Witte Garland (The Feminist Press at the City University of New York).

Defective Defense: How the Pentagon Buys Weapons That Do Not Work, by Louis Nemeth and Kukula Kapoor Glastris (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

The Failed Promise of the National Cooperative Bank, by Seyoum Haregot (Center for Study of for Responsive Law).

Forty Ways to Make Government Purchasing Green,by Eleanor J. Lewis & Eric Weltman (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Issues in Resource Conservation, briefing series #1,(Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Eliminating the Use of Virgin Wood in Pallets & Packing Materials, by Ned Daly (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Undervaluing Forests, by Mike Roselle (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Government Purchasing: What Are we Buying With Our Tax Dollars, by Todd Paglia (Center for Study of Responsive Law).

Energy Directions: Toward a Sustainable Future, by Jonathan Dushoff (Center for Study of Responsive Law).