More administration closed door inappropriate influence from special interest : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread

More administration closed door inappropriate influence from special interests.

Consumer protection is being decimated, oversight is being removed and big business is getting a free pass for corruption. All of the safeguards against corruption and colusion and for the protection of American citizens are being removed, without us ever hearing about it. At least until it has already done.

This administration is not working for the majority of American citizens, they are changing every area of government for the benifit of big business aginst the American public. And doing it without us knowing it, behind closed doors.,1294,50145,00.html

Media Mergers: Who Should Rule?
By Jeffrey Benner

2:00 a.m. Feb. 1, 2002 PST
Resentment is simmering in Washington over a proposal that would shift oversight of media and cable mergers to the Department of Justice, cutting the Federal Trade Commission out of the loop.

Members of Congress, consumer advocates, policy experts and two FTC commissioners have criticized the proposal. They're worried that the DOJ would give an easier ride to media mergers than the FTC.

"I am very concerned," said Stanford law professor Larry Lessig. "The FTC has taken a broader view of these issues, keeping the general competitive context in mind. This is especially important in the context of media mergers affecting the Internet, because we just don't know the range of values at stake yet. Careful review here is critical."

Also troubling some is the way FTC chairman Timothy Muris and assistant attorney general Charles James, both Bush appointees, went about drafting the proposal. Critics say the proposed DOJ/FTC deal on mergers was made behind closed doors, with inappropriate influence from special interests.

Prominent antitrust attorneys from the private sector, who could be expected to represent corporate clients seeking mergers in the future, were reportedly asked for input on the new policy, but Congress, consumer groups and the public were not. Critics view this situation as similar to the current showdown over Vice President Cheney's meetings with Enron about energy policy.

Mozelle Thompson, one of two Democrats among the five sitting FTC commissioners, said he was shut out of the process completely. He said he first heard of the proposal's existence Jan. 14, just three days before it was to be signed at a press conference. Even then, Muris did not provide a final draft of the proposal, Thompson said.

"I don't know all the advice that chairman (Muris) and James got in the context of drafting this agreement," Thompson said. "I know they spoke to outside lawyers. They didn't talk with me. It strikes me as somewhat unusual to rely on statements from lawyers who represent parties with matters before us, and not (talk) to the commissioners."

Thompson isn't the only one feeling snubbed. Word of the agreement leaked to the media late on Wednesday, Jan. 16, a day before the deal was to be announced. It made the Thursday morning paper, which is where Senator Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina) first heard of it.

As chairman of both the Commerce Committee, which oversees the FTC, and the subcommittee in charge of setting the DOJ's budget, Hollings is accustomed to hearing about major policy changes at these agencies before reporters do. He was not pleased with this exception.

"Senator Hollings had strong concerns, to say the least," Andy Davis, the senator's spokesman, said. A phone call from Hollings' office to the Department of Justice must have effectively communicated the depth of the Senator's "concern." The press conference was abruptly cancelled, and reporters who had already begun to gather were sent away clutching copies of the unsigned agreement (PDF file), which had already been passed around.

FTC and DOJ representatives met with congressional staff members last week to try to patch things up. But indications are that the spat has the potential to boil over -- into another dispute over industry insiders getting a seat at the table when the Bush administration makes policy, while consumer advocates, the public and even Congress are left out of the loop. Insiders are privately whispering that the issue could eventually lead to congressional hearings on what went wrong.

"It's premature to start talking about hearings," Davis said. "We're in a dialog that should have started a long time ago. There are a lot of questions and concerns. If they can't provide the answers, then we'll take the next steps."

Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy, a media watchdog organization, filed a request this week under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), asking for records of the meetings FTC and DOJ officials had about the deal with antitrust lawyers now in private practice.

Consumer advocates like Chester worry that, if the plan is eventually approved, the DOJ won't protect consumers from monopolistic behavior as well as the FTC does. He argues that the FTC's five commissioners, and its broad mandate for consumer protection, make it more likely it do a better job than the DOJ of fighting for the openness of the Internet, and preventing over-arching media monopolies.

But supporters of the deal say concerns about its substance, and who was included in the process, are unfounded. In a joint statement on the agreement, FTC commissioners Orson Swindle and Thomas Leary, both Republicans, expressed their disappointment that the deal had been delayed, saying it would have helped streamline the approval process for mergers.

They blamed the dispute on "misinformation and misunderstandings" about both the agreement itself and the way it came about. "We are not troubled by the process by which the agreement was fashioned," they wrote.

-- Cherri (, February 02, 2002

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