Michael R. Lemov
"Somebody once told me, a fellow legislative staffer, that you can do more with the stroke of a pen up here than you can do with a year’s work of brief writing at a law firm, or a year’s worth of lobbying for a corporation. There is immense power in the legislative branch. And my experience tells me that he was right. Overall, I think politics at the staff or elective level is a noble profession."
— Michael R. Lemov, October 26, 2011
As the consumer rights movement began to take shape in the early 1970s, Michael R. Lemov worked for the House Energy and Commerce Committee as counsel, examining unsafe products and the companies that manufactured them. For six years, Lemov and his colleagues worked to regulate energy and insurance rates, standardize automobile safety, and investigate products ranging from lawnmowers to professional football helmets.
Lemov’s interviews reveal the inner workings of House committees, including the tension that can emerge, in this case, between the full committee chairman and his subcommittees. In the early 1970s, as subcommittee chairs across the House fought for more autonomy, including the right to hire staff and hold investigations, Lemov supported Congressman John Moss of California as he and other reformers attempted to usurp power from the chairman of the Energy and Foreign Commerce Committee Chairman Harley Staggers of West Virginia. Throughout the oral history, Lemov describes the behind-the-scenes efforts by committee counsels to draft consumer protection legislation, organize hearings, select witnesses, and lead markups.
Michael R. Lemov, the only child of Mildred (Weisman) and Irving Lemov, was born in New York in 1935. Growing up in the outer borough of Queens, Lemov’s father, a trial lawyer, occasionally brought him to his hearings. After graduating from Stuyvesant High School in New York City in 1952, Lemov attended Colgate University, in Hamilton, New York. Lemov’s mother, who worked from home for most of his childhood, went into the workforce in order to support him through college.
Lemov majored in political science, played on the soccer team, and became president of the Young Democrats at Colgate. Through the university’s Washington Study Project, he worked in Washington, D.C., for Congressman Abraham Multer of New York during his junior year. Lemov graduated in 1956 and followed his father into the legal profession. He earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1959 and moved back to New York to work in private practice.
In 1966, Lemov returned to the nation’s capital to work at the Department of Justice. He moved to Southwest, D.C., with his wife, Penelope, and their newborn daughter, Rebecca. For two years, Lemov worked as a trial attorney and represented a number of federal agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission. Lemov and his wife later had a second child, Doug. In 1968, Lemov left the Department of Justice and took a job with the newly established National Commission on Product Safety. As general counsel, Lemov researched potentially dangerous products—everything from swimming pools to pajamas—selected witnesses, and held hearings. The commission submitted its final report in 1970, complete with proposed legislation to improve the safety of consumer products in America.
Determined to turn the draft legislation into law, Lemov searched for a job on Capitol Hill. The House Commerce Committee had no staff openings, so Lemov worked as counsel for the House Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Foundations, which dealt with issues relating to nonprofits, charities, and other large giving organizations. A year later, Lemov took a position with Congressman John Moss of California on the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee’s Commerce and Finance Subcommittee, continuing his work on consumer legislation. For four years, Lemov conducted investigations, held hearings, and drafted legislation. He played a vital role in creating and passing the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Acts, and the Federal Trade Commission Improvements Act.
In 1975, Congressman Moss became chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and hired Lemov as the subcommittee’s chief counsel. Under Moss’ leadership, the subcommittee focused specifically on investigating federal departments and government commissions that oversaw the nation’s insurance, health, and energy policies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Lemov left Capitol Hill in 1977, but continued his legal career in the Washington, D.C., area. In 2009, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley appointed him as a member of the Maryland consumer council. Lemov is now retired and living in Maryland.
Michael R. Lemov provides background on conference committees.
Initial Hearing on Consumer Product Safety Act
Michael R. Lemov shares memories of a high-profile committee hearing.
Making the Switch from Banking to Commerce
Michael R. Lemov recounts the experience of moving to a new committee.
National Commission on Product Safety Hearings
Michael R. Lemov provides an example of the hearings the National Commission on Product Safety held.
Response to the National Commission's Report
Michael R. Lemov describes the drive behind the consumer rights movement.
Working as Subcommittee Counsel
Michael R. Lemov describes his working relationship with Representative John Moss of California.
Michael R. Lemov recalls his colleague Joe Miller explaining why the Consumer Product Safety Act was held in the House Rules Committee in 1972.
"Moss Had Integrity"
Michael R. Lemov describes Representative John Moss of California.
"Do You Swear to Tell the Truth?"
Michael R. Lemov remembers how Congressman John Moss of California interacted with major gas company presidents at the start of a congressional hearing.
"I Have Always Had the Power"
Michael R. Lemov explains an interaction between the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee chairman, Harley Staggers, and three subcommittee chairmen, John Moss, John Dingell, Jr., and Paul Rogers.
The Power of the Legislative Branch
Michael R. Lemov encourages young professionals to become congressional staff.