Muris to lead FTC in return engagement

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After seven years, Robert Pitofsky's era at the Federal Trade Commission is coming to a close.

President George W. Bush as early as this week is expected to name Timothy Muris as his replacement. Mr. Muris, a law professor, in the early `80s headed successively the two halves of the FTC--the Bureau of Consumer Protection (which handles advertising) and then the Bureau of Competition (which handles antitrust).

Mr. Muris would fill not only Mr. Pitofsky's role as the FTC's new chairman but his spot on the five-member commission. Mr. Pitofsky's term on the commission runs through September, but the appointment's timing apparently anticipates he will step down once the Senate confirms Mr. Muris.

An aide to Mr. Pitofsky, a Democrat nominated in 1995 by then-President Bill Clinton, declined comment last week. Mr. Muris also declined comment.

Mr. Muris, a Republican who now is a professor at George Mason University in suburban Washington, has an extensive government background. He followed former FTC chairman James C. Miller III from the FTC to the White House's Office of Management and Budget during the administration of President Bush's father. Mr. Muris, 51, was executive associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, the third highest-ranking position in the agency that oversees the federal budget.

During last year's presidential campaign, Mr. Muris was an economic adviser to the Bush camp. He also worked on the transition team. Mr. Muris would be returning to the FTC for the third time, having served as a young

attorney in the commission's office of policy and planning in 1975 and 1976.

People who know Mr. Muris say his philosophy on when it's appropriate for the government to act is "more conservative" than Mr. Pitofsky's view, yet they also say he is willing to step in if facts warrant it.

"Tim certainly is not an activist," said American Advertising Federation President-CEO Wally Snyder, who worked for Mr. Muris at the FTC in the early `80s. "My sense is he will be cautious and more inclined to look at individual cases than at industrywide action, and he will also look at the economic impact of taking action. But he will take action where it is necessary and appropriate."

Mr. Miller, now a director of the Law and Economics Consulting Group, describes Mr. Muris as "an extraordinarily bright, knowledgeable and resourceful person who probably knows more about the FTC and the FTC's role than anyone in the country."

Mr. Miller said Mr. Muris' regulatory philosophy mirrors that of the Reagan era. At the FTC in the early 1980s, Mr. Muris was at the center of several battles. In one, the FTC's move to reduce the substantiation needed for ad claims met opposition from the ad industry, which was concerned the move could risk consumer confidence. In others, Mr. Muris moved to ease credit warnings to more easily allow TV ads to cite terms, but supported requiring cigarette ads to carry rotating health warnings.

Mr. Miller cautioned that comparisons to that era may be unfair because the e-commerce and privacy issues now facing the FTC emerged after the Reagan era and have brought changes to the economy that have affected the FTC's mission.


Mr. Muris, in a speech last year about antitrust law to the American Bar Association, suggested that at least for the commission's regulatory duties over advertising, the differences between Democrats and Republicans on how the FTC should proceed have significantly lessened since the Reagan era.

Where the FTC in the 1970s used to write trade regulation rules, under more recent commissioners-including Mr. Pitofsky-the FTC mostly has used individual cases to set enforcement actions.

Yet Mr. Muris also has indicated some differences with the Pitofsky FTC over antitrust matters. When the FTC accused Toys "R" Us of illegally pressuring marketers to cut out warehouse clubs, Mr. Muris testified for Toys "R" Us. He also spoke out against the FTC's charge that Intel Corp. had illegally used its market clout to deny information to three rival firms, suggesting Intel was protecting its individual property rights.

As FTC chairman, Mr. Muris will have an unusual bond with the government's other top antitrust officer, Charles A. James. Recently nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department's antitrust, Mr. James was a staff lawyer at the FTC Bureau of Competition in the `80s under Mr. Muris.

Dan Jaffe, executive VP of the Association of National Advertisers, said Mr. Muris is likely to act more slowly in select antitrust matters and in advertising issues. "His view is, `let's go carefully,'" said Mr. Jaffe.

John Kamp, a Washington lawyer and former senior VP of the Washington office of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said Mr. Muris would be willing to act, but is unlikely to be quite the activist Mr. Pitofsky is. "Though he's a partisan Republican, he understands antitrust and consumer protections," Mr. Kamp said. "He believes the FTC has serious authority that has to be exercised. He is not likely to cede consumer protection to state attorneys general."

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