Pandemic Price Gouging: State Attorney General Asks for New Powers

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sent a written request to Governor Kate Brown asking that she “declare an abnormal disruption of the market” empowering the state to take action against businesses that engage in price gouging during the Covid-19 outbreak.   

Rosenblum’s letter cited examples of Oregon stores who overcharged for essential items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. For example, a pharmacy allegedly sold toilet paper that usually sells for $9.99-$12.99 for $22.99. Another example involved a store that allegedly marked up a disinfectant cleaner from $3.00 dollars to $9.99. 

“For the past week, we have heard from Oregonians from across the state who are reporting everything from the higher price of toilet paper, to the higher price of cleaning disinfectant,” according to a statement by Rosenblum.  

What an Abnormal Disputation of Markets Means to Oregon Consumers 

“Once the Governor declares an abnormal disruption of the market, my office is able to take action and follow-up with consumer complaints about reports of price gouging from large grocery stores to smaller businesses,” said Rosenblum  

According to the Attorney General’s website, “in Oregon, it is unlawful to offer or sell essential consumer goods or services at an “unconscionably excessive price” after the Governor declares that an abnormal disruption of the market exists.”   

An essential good refers to items necessary for health, safety or welfare such as food and medical supplies. During the Covid-19 outbreak, the Attorney General’s office considers cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper to fit in this category. During a declared market disruption, a mark up of more than 15% over the pre-pandemic market price may be considered excessive.   

However, there are circumstances where there may be exceptions to the 15% mark-up limitation such as increased prices from suppliers and increased expenses like paying staff overtime.  

State Offers Price Gouging Hotline 

If you suspect price gouging, you may report it through their phone hotline or online. The phone numbers for the Oregon DOJ’s new hotline are (503) 378-8442 and 1-877-877-9392. Alternately, use their online complaint form.  

By Samantha Sied