FTC MERGER OVERSIGHT PLAN SKUTTLED AFTER PROTEST

Proposal Would Have Ceded Authority to Justice Department

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A plan by the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission to allow the Justice Department to have oversight of key media mergers appears to have fallen apart today.

A press conference to announce the agreement between the FTC and the Justice Department was canceled after reports surfaced that Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., who is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, was irate he hadn't been consulted on the proposed plan.

Republicans on the committee reportedly weren't too thrilled, either, to learn of the move by reading about it in The Wall Street Journal.

Ceding power to Justice
The move was intended to clear up conflicting lines of oversight in media mergers between the Justice Department and the FTC. The plan would have had the FTC ceding virtually all its oversight powers to the Justice Department.

FTC Commissioner Mozelle Thompson, a Democrat, in a statement issued today accused the FTC's chairman, Tim Muris, of abandoning the commission's tradition of bipartisanship in negotiating the switchover without input from other commissioners and without a vote. He said other commissioners didn't even get to see the agreement until just before the scheduled press conference.

'Private discussions'
"The commission's future antitrust responsibility raises weighty issues that warrant attention from each commissioner," Mr. Thompson said. "The agreement ... is the product of private discussions. Chairman Muris failed to consult with or provide meaningful opportunity for other commissioners to provide any input."

The Justice Department said it still hopes to go ahead with the planned realignment of antitrust supervision, but will meet with Congressional staff before proceeding.

"The Department of Justice strongly supports the proposed realignment of industry sectors regarding antitrust clearance. We are meeting with congressional staff and look forward to resolving any questions they may have so that we may implement the proposed agreement as soon as possible," said Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona.

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