Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 December 2018
This article explores how private organizations influence the content and meaning of consumer protection legislation. I examine why California forced consumers to use a private dispute resolution system that affords consumers fewer rights, while Vermont adopted a state‐run disputing structure that affords consumers greater rights. Drawing from historical and new institutional theories, I analyze twenty‐five years of legislative history, as well as interviews with drafters of the California and Vermont laws, to show how automobile manufacturers weakened the impact of a powerful California consumer warranty law by creating dispute resolution venues. As these structures became institutionalized in the lemon law field, manufacturers reshaped the meaning of legislation. Unlike California, the political alliances in Vermont and a different developmental path led to a state‐run dispute resolution structure. I conclude that how social reform laws are designed and how businesses influence social reform legislation can increase or decrease the achievement of a statute's social reform goals.