Commentary

Trump Nominates Three For FTC, Including Simons As Chair

The Trump administration is nominating three people to fill out the five-member Federal Trade Commission, including its new chair-to be, antitrust lawyer Joseph Simons, a Washington insider and presumed friend of “Tech’s Frightful Five.” He also will nominate Noah Phillips, currently chief counsel for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and Rohit Chopra, a consumer advocate who served as assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Obama administration, to take the commission’s open Democratic slot.

“The FTC, charged with protecting U.S. consumers and enforcing the country's antitrust laws, has been led since late January by Republican commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen. As acting chairman, she’s only been able to fill key internal positions on a temporary basis, leaving the agency in a state of uncertainty,” write Ashley Gold, Nancy Scola and John Hendel for Politico, which first reported that Trump had chosen Simons in August.

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“Trump's pick is a blow to Ohlhausen, who has served at the FTC since 2012 and has spent most of this year openly campaigning for the permanent chairman job, by highlighting her skepticism toward regulation and even saying she took inspiration from ‘The Art of the Deal,’ Trump's 1987 memoir of his life as a real estate developer,” Gold, Scola and Hendel report. (The co-author of that book, Tony Schwartz, has consistently highlighted his skepticism toward the President on Twitter, BTW.)

“The announcement ends months of speculation over who might lead the FTC and its efforts to regulate perceived monopolies and unfair business practices, at a time when many policymakers have raised questions about the growing consolidation of industries, including retail and media,” Brian Fung reports for the Washington Post.

“One industry that may be breathing a sigh of relief: Silicon Valley,” Fung continues. “Simons serves as a co-chair of the antitrust practice at the law firm Paul Weiss. His previous clients include many tech or tech-related firms, such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Sharp and Sony. He has also represented companies in the defense, music, software, telecom and transportation industries.”

Tony Romm, writing for Recodeconcurs: “In Simons, Trump has telegraphed once again that his rhetoric — promising to break up big companies, particularly in media and telecom — is unlikely to shape his government’s own antitrust policy.”

Simons received his A.B. in Economics and History from Cornell University in 1980 and his J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center in 1983. He was in charge of antitrust enforcement at the FTC from 2001 until 2003 as director of the Bureau of Competition.

“Among his accomplishments, [he] was responsible for overseeing the re-invigoration of the FTC’s non-merger enforcement program. Under his leadership, the Bureau initiated over 100 investigations and produced more non-merger enforcement actions in one year than in any other year in the prior two decades or since, according to a White House release.

“During that time, the commission blocked Libbey Inc.’s plan to buy glassware rival Anchor Hocking from Newell Rubbermaid and the combination of pickle makers Vlasic Foods International and Claussen Pickle,” report David McLaughlin and Margaret Talev for Bloomberg.

In April, the Association of National Advertisers “urged the White House to move forward with nominations,” Wendy Davis points out for MediaPost’s Digital News Daily. “With only one commissioner from each party, in a politically fraught environment, the FTC could end up in 1-1 tie votes, leaving the Commission essentially paralyzed and unable to act in a number of areas of high importance to consumers and advertising interests,” it said.

That, indeed, happened last month when a 1-1 vote over Walgreens Boots Alliance’s acquisition of about 2,000 Rite Aid Corp. stores, allowed the deal to proceed, as Bloomberg’s McLaughlin and Robert Langreth reported.

“I am concerned that the transaction will leave some communities with fewer pharmacy options and could lead to higher drug prices,” Democratic commissioner Terrell McSweeny said at the time. Republican Ohlhausen maintained that “Rite Aid will remain a robust competitor in the areas where its presence matters.” 

Chopra, who currently works on consumer-finance issues as a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America, joins McSweeny on the Democratic side. Phillips, the other Republican nominee, has expertise in areas including privacy and antitrust, according to Axios’s Kim Hart 

The politics will remain fraught but the resolutions, no doubt, will be clear-cut.

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