FTC Must Refocus on Harm to Consumers and Competition

FTC_Man_Controlling_Trade

Federal agencies regularly use statistics to demonstrate their relevance and justify their exorbitant budgets. The Justice Department, for instance, boasts about the billions it brought in from False Claims Act lawsuits last year. The Environmental Protection Agency brags about the amount of fines and years in jail resulting from its enforcement actions in 2016. But the public is rarely provided concrete evidence of how those incarcerations and billions in fines, say, actually reduce contracting fraud or improve the environment.

So, too, with the Federal Trade Commission. In recent years, FTC hasn’t missed an opportunity to tout its statistical successes to the public and congressional appropriators. In the process of piling up the number of cases brought and fines extracted trumpeted by Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in her resignation press release, however, a critical limitation on FTC’s mission and authority has taken a backseat: the need to prove consumer harm. Continue reading

A Q&A with Federal Regulation Scholar Susan Dudley on Reconsidering Regulations

dudleysusan-2015_crop_webSusan E. Dudley is Director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, which she founded in 2009, and a distinguished professor of practice in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. From 2007 to 2009, she served as the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

WLF Legal Pulse: As promised, Congress and the Administration have quickly gotten to work reconsidering and removing a host of federal regulations while also setting the stage for a much different approach to regulation.  Let’s first talk about what Congress is doing.

Professor Dudley: Under the Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA), Congress has 60 legislative days after a regulation is published to vote to disapprove it.  The procedures for disapproval are streamlined (including requiring a simple majority in the Senate) and if a rule is disapproved, the agency cannot issue something substantially similar. Continue reading

DOJ Announces Intent to Go Criminal in Wage-Fixing and No-Poaching Antitrust Cases

swisherFeatured Expert Contributor — Antitrust & Competition, U.S. Department of Justice

Anthony W. Swisher, a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

In April of this year President Obama issued an executive order designed to “protect American consumers and workers and encourage competition in the U.S. economy … .” The order aimed to expand competition policy beyond just the Justice Department Antitrust Division (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and encouraged every federal agency to consider ways to enhance competition when drafting and enforcing each given agency’s regulations. A notable element of the President’s executive order was the promotion of competition in labor markets. The order asserted that the economic growth that flows from competitive markets “creates opportunity for American workers,” and that anticompetitive practices can reduce those opportunities. Continue reading

Divergent Philosophies on Merger Enforcement Emerge from Senior DOJ, FTC Antitrust Officials’ Speeches

Featured Expert Contributor — Antitrust & Competition, U.S. Department of Justice

swisherAnthony W. Swisher, a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP.

*Ed. Note: With this post, Mr. Swisher is assuming the role of Featured Expert Contributor on Antitrust & Competition—DOJ.  The WLF Legal Pulse welcomes him on board, and we thank his predecessor, Mark J. Botti, for his contributions on DOJ-Antitrust matters during the past two years.

Observers looking for clues as to how federal antitrust enforcement could develop in the next administration took note of a June speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren laid out some aggressive policy views that would result in a marked shift in antitrust enforcement doctrine if put into place. She decried a so-called “concentration problem” and lamented that “competition is dying.” Senator Warren called for the antitrust enforcement agencies to “hold the line” on horizontal mergers, and was sharply critical of the established agency practice of obtaining divestiture relief, claiming that “too often, [divestitures] don’t work.” Continue reading

Court’s “FTC v. Amazon” Decision Endorses Agency’s Disregard for Economic Analysis

amazonOn May 24, 2016 a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on a number of bills (17, to be exact) regarding the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer-protection mission. A number of proposals seek to fortify the vigor and transparency of the economic analysis FTC must perform when taking action against alleged “unfair” acts or practices under § 5 of the FTC Act. Some observers, (including former FTC Commissioner Josh Wright, who testified at the hearing) feel the Commission often gives short shrift to the “not-outweighed-by-countervailing-benefits-to-consumers-or-competition” language in the statute’s Unfairness Statement.

Wright’s testimony offers as an example the Commission’s 2014-2015 actions against several mobile app sellers’ “in-app purchase” sales practices. While on the Commission, Wright dissented from FTC’s complaint that Apple acted unfairly in how it designed the mechanism for app buyers to make purchases within the app. FTC alleged that Apple did not do enough to prevent children from making in-app purchases their parents did not authorize. In his dissent, Wright criticized FTC for failing to consider the countervailing benefits of Apple’s approach, such as relieving consumers of the need to constantly enter passwords, as well as the costs associated with government micromanagement of app design. Continue reading

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Federal Court Blocks Staples/Office Depot Merger

amurinoFeatured Expert Column – Antitrust/Federal Trade Commission

Andrea Agathoklis Murino, Goodwin Procter LLP

Staples, Inc. (SPLS) and Office Depot, Inc. (ODP) would be forgiven for thinking of the late Yogi Berra and wondering if this was what he meant by déjà vu all over again.  In 1997, following an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the US District Court for the District of Columbia blocked their proposed tie-up.  And now, in 2016, after more than a year-long battle with the FTC, the same court’s Judge Emmet G. Sullivan blocked SPLS’s proposed acquisition of ODP.  Judge Sullivan announced the outcome on May 10, but issued his opinion only to the parties; the public needed to wait until May 17 to see his quite detailed 75-page explanation.  In sum, Judge Sullivan found that the FTC had met its burden under § 7 of the Clayton Act and showed a reasonable probability that the proposed merger would substantially lessen competition in the sale and distribution of consumable office supplies to large Business-to-Business customers. With that finding in hand, the court concluded that the FTC had carried its burden of showing that a preliminary injunction preventing the proposed merger was in the public interest and that the equities weighed in favor of injunctive relief. Shortly after Judge Sullivan announced his decision, SPLS and ODP abandoned the transaction. Continue reading

Antitrust Merger Enforcement In the Obama Administration: Has the Pendulum Swung Too Far?

Botti2Featured Expert Contributor – Antitrust & Competition, U.S. Department of Justice

Mark J. Botti, Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP with Anthony W. Swisher, Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

With a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearings scheduled for March 9, it seems an appropriate time to examine whether the Obama Administration’s more aggressive merger enforcement has gained so much momentum that it is causing the pendulum to swing too far.   Have the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission lost sight of mergers’ value to the economy by abandoning the middle ground and too often treating “problem” mergers as all-or-nothing propositions? Continue reading