Recently appointed Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris told a gathering of attorneys that they should expect continuity with the previous administration in antitrust enforcement at the FTC. Speaking at the 124th American Bar Association annual meeting in Chicago, Muris said, "Continuity will be the norm, with changes at the margins."
In recounting the evolution of merger policy in the 1970s and early 1980s, Muris described the 1982 Merger Guidelines as a milestone in antitrust. "They incorporated an economically sound analytical structure that was workable in practice and provided clear guideposts for businesses and antitrust practitioners," he stated. "The 1982 Guidelines laid the foundation for today's merger enforcement. Although improved over the years, the core analytical structure remains the same. The Guidelines have stood the test of time and have become even more influential. The courts increasingly follow them, and they have greatly influenced merger enforcement across the world."
Noting that antitrust has become an area of bipartisan cooperation, Muris said, "Although there are disagreements about specific cases, there is widespread agreement that the purpose of antitrust is to protect consumers. . . . there is bipartisan recognition that antitrust law is a way of helping to organize our economy."
Muris also noted that merger analysis, in any administration, is fact intensive. "We learned long ago that facts are stubborn things in merger enforcement," Muris stated. "No economic theory or story-based advocacy about a merger will give you a reliable answer unless the facts firmly support it. This is absolutely as it should be. This is why no change in Administration or change in faces in the agencies will significantly change merger enforcement."
The public's expectations were also addressed during the speech. "I know that some in the press and the Bar think that the Bush administration will relax antitrust enforcement. I urge them, and you, to watch what we do. I can tell you unequivocally that if you come in with transactions that would not fly in the past, you are likely to 'crash' unless you have compelling, stubborn facts on your side."
One initiative that would continue under his Chairmanship, Muris told the ABA members, is hearings and workshops on consumer protection and competition matters that affect the economy. "These proceedings help us develop a better understanding of new economic and business developments, and their consumer-related implications, in a non-adversarial process, and are useful to the Commission, the Congress, and others, by informing policy and possibly future enforcement decisions. We have already continued the practice of sponsoring these proceedings with our just concluded conference on Gasoline Prices last week. There will be follow-up hearings on this issue over the next several months, and we will have similar hearings on other antitrust and consumer protection issues over the next few years," he said.
Muris concluded his remarks by noting that "Protecting consumers is the purpose of the antitrust laws and the mission of the Federal Trade Commission. I fully support our mission and a vigorous pro-consumer antitrust enforcement agenda. The 'stubborn facts' of our actions will not support the preconceptions of some that we are here to put the brakes on antitrust. I look forward to working with the ABA to ensure that our antitrust enforcement is the best it can be to protect American consumers," he said.
Copies of the speech are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at https://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.