As merger-fervent US media moguls stand in line for the blessing of Washington competition regulators, a battle royal is brewing between proponents and opponents of the transfer of decision making power from the Federal Trade Commission to the antitrust division of the Department of Justice [WAMN: 13-Mar-02] – the latter seen by some observers as more merger-benign than the FTC.
Demanded Senator Ernest Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and vociferous opponent of the intramural swap: “Where do you think you get the authority to change the authority of the department? It’s not authorized in the law.”
His questions were directed at FTC chairman Timothy Muris, during the department’s annual budget review. Muris countered that the inter-departmental covenant would end the internecine battles that have marked previous merger reviews: “A secret process has become transparent," he claimed. Hollings however, was unimpressed, dismissing Muris’ argument as “outrageous” and “totally improper”.
According to one Capitol Hill insider, the deal pushed by Muris was okayed by attorney general John Ashcroft after his carpeting by Hollings for the DoJ’s role in the Enron debacle. Hollings has demanded that Muris and Ashcroft supply a complete list of meetings leading up to the decision, names of participants and correspondence with other parties.
The doughty Democrat has an ace up his sleeve which he has threatened to play in the poker game with the FTC. As chair of the department’s appropriations review committee, he wields considerable influence over its annual budget, currently under review, and has the power to slash funds – even the salaries of its officials.
Data sourced from: MediaWeek.com; additional content by WARC staff