Attorney General Lori Swanson (Star Tribune photo by Glen Stubbe)
Sunday's Star Tribune story on the growing secrecy in Minnesota noted that state law allows minimal access to records of the attorney general, the state's chief defender of consumers against bad businesses. Consumer complaints and investigations are off-limits to the public, and that's fine by Attorney General Lori Swanson. Her spokesman, Benjamin Wogsland, said the law protects consumers' privacy and prevents misinterpretation. Even the volume of complaints about a business could be misconstrued, Wogsland said.
In the era of free-for-all complaining on Yelp and Twitter, Swanson's counterparts in the world of consumer protection are increasingly opening up their complaint files to the public.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine offers a searchable database of complaints. So does the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs. Missouri AG Josh Hawley has a complaint search function with more limited data.
The feds have also changed their tune. You can search complaints about financial products and services, broadcasters,consumer products and cars. Even the private Better Business Bureau posts thousands of complaints online.
Swanson's website dispenses lots of advice to consumers on how to avoid getting ripped off. Except for those instances in which Swanson presents victims of a scam or other bad practices at a news conference, Minnesotans won't be learning directly from the stories of aggrieved consumers any time soon.