Sheldon Whitehouse Says These Companies 'Prey on Consumers' by Shrinking Product Quantities. He Also Invests in Them.

Sheldon Whitehouse (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
June 11, 2024

Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) is sponsoring legislation to tackle so-called shrinkflation, saying that corporations "prey on consumers" by stealthily shrinking the quantity of snacks, toilet paper, and other consumer products to pad their bottom line. Whitehouse also holds hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in those same corporations, according to a review of his portfolio.

In announcing his sponsorship of the Shrinkflation Prevention Act, Whitehouse cited a report from Senate Democrats that shames several alleged practitioners of shrinkflation, a form of inflation in which companies decrease the size of their products while keeping prices the same. Whitehouse and his wife own between $303,000 and $910,000 in shares of the firms identified in the Senate report, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson, ConAgra, Walmart, and Procter & Gamble, according to his most recent financial disclosure.

Those holdings could lead to the latest allegations of hypocrisy against Whitehouse, who routinely accuses Republicans of conflicts of interest and ethical breaches. Whitehouse has led the push to require conservative Supreme Court justices to disclose financial conflicts involving their spouses, yet he has introduced several pieces of legislation that could benefit his wife Sandra Whitehouse's energy firm, Running Tide Technology, the Washington Free Beacon reported. And Whitehouse, who bills himself a civil rights champion opposed to "systemic racism," has come under fire over his membership at an all-white beach club in Newport, R.I.

Whitehouse signed on as an original cosponsor of the Shrinkflation Prevention Act in February, asserting in a press release that "big corporations took advantage" of COVID-19 to "prey on consumers" and that "corporate profits are swelling as hardworking Rhode Islanders are getting squeezed, especially at the grocery store where products have shrunk and prices have soared."

The bill would allow the federal government to bring civil charges against companies that engage in shrinkflation. Republicans say it's a toothless election-year ploy to distract from the skyrocketing prices caused by the inflationary policies of President Joe Biden and Democrats.

Whitehouse's press release points to a report from Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), the bill's chief sponsor, which called out several major consumer goods companies that have decreased the size of their products without cutting prices.

The report accuses Procter & Gamble of engaging in "one of the sneakiest examples" of shrinkflation by cutting the amount of its Dawn soap while leaving bottles the same size. The Whitehouses own between $130,000 and $350,000 in shares of Procter & Gamble, according to the senator's disclosure.

The report criticizes PepsiCo and Coca-Cola for cutting the size of their Gatorade and Gold Peak drinks, respectively. Whitehouse and his wife own between $80,000 and $200,000 in shares of PepsiCo and between $45,000 and $150,000 of Coca-Cola.

The report criticizes Walmart for decreasing the size of its store-brand toilet paper by 28 percent. The Whitehouses own between $17,000 and $80,000 in shares of the retail giant, according to the financial disclosure.

Whitehouse's office did not respond to a request for comment.