FTC nomination under scrutiny

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President Bush's nomination of a former Justice Department antitrust official to succeed Tim Muris as head of the Federal Trade Commission is running into controversy.

Ironically, the appointee, Deborah P. Majoras, was principal deputy for antitrust at the Justice Department during the tug-of-war between that department and the FTC for oversight of media deals. In that post, she also helped negotiate the government's settlement with Microsoft.

In an April 2002 speech, Ms. Majoras defended as "the right thing to do" the tradeoff agreement, which would have ceded oversight of media deals to a Justice Department far less critical of mergers than the FTC. The agreement, in turn, would have given the FTC oversight over health-care mergers.

The proposal drew the heated ire of Sen. Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, who lambasted the lack of congressional input and the effect that could have on media mergers. At one point Mr. Hollings suggested Mr. Muris, who was an architect of the program, should consider resigning because of the deal.

Though the trade was eventually dropped, Mr. Hollings' aide said last week that the senator's still has "some concerns" about Ms. Majoras because of that plan. The aide declined to say whether Mr. Hollings will oppose the confirmation. "Sen. Hollings hopes she understands authorization is a congressional matter."

Washington observers said the appointment's timing-less than six months before the presidential election and without Mr. Hollings' immediate approval-could delay the confirmation. "Any nomination could be held up, especially one this close to the election when Democrats and Republicans are feuding bitterly over judicial nominations," said John Kamp, an advertising lawyer in Washington.

no stand yet

Consumer groups last week said they were reviewing the nomination, but generally hadn't yet taken a stand. "By and large, we stay out of appointment fights, but if she had policy responsibility for undermining the Microsoft case, it would be a serious source of concern," said Mark N. Cooper, research director for the Consumer Federation of America.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said he is concerned that "a conglomerate-friendly chair" would be taking leadership of the FTC.

Ms. Majoras, 40, now an attorney for Jones Day in Washington, is slated to succeed Mr. Muris, the Republican whose chairmanship of the commission capped his third stint at the FTC, and who drew praise from consumer groups for implementing the FTC's do-not-call list. Mr. Muris is to serve until a successor is confirmed, then will return to George Mason University to teach.

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