TOPIC: Federal Trade Commission

Obama administration tries to protect undocumented from legal scams

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Georgia Pabst reports that the Justice Dept., Federal Trade Commission, and Dept. of Homeland Security are launching an investigation into notary publics that scam illegal immigrants. Immigrants mistakenly think that the notary publics are licensed attorneys who can help them apply for citizenship status, but there have been cases where these notaries have taken money without providing any authorized legal guidance. The federal effort includes the creation of an online consumer database that will log complaints against notary publics.

Pomegranate juice? It’s over there next to the snake oil

Cracking down on what it called “false and unsubstantiated” medical claims, the Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint against pomegranate juice maker Pom Wonderful and the company’s billionaire owners, and California agribusiness power brokers Lynda and Stewart Resnick, according to P.J. Huffstutter and Andrew Zajac of the Los Angeles Times.

The agency is investigating claims made in advertisements and in media interviews given by Lynda Resnick that the tart, deep red juice can combat the loss of male virility, Alzheimer’s disease, poor circulation, heart disease and prostate cancer. (more…)

Holding discriminatory lenders accountable

The Chicago Tribune’s Cynthia Dizikes reports that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has sued the mortgage company formerly known as Countrywide for issuing a disproportionate number of their subprime loans to blacks and Latinos. The lawsuit comes two years after Countrywide, now part of Bank of America, reached an $8.8 billion settlement with Illinois and California over allegations that the lender defrauded borrowers. (more…)

True Fact: Government Agencies Cooperating

By Marci Greenstein

National Institutes of Health chief, Dr. Frances Collins was talking up his agency’s partnership with the Food and Drug Administration on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show last week.  The move is intended to speed up the process for getting drugs from laboratories to the marketplace.  What’s surprising is that this collaboration hasn’t happened sooner.  How often have we heard about patients desperate to get drugs that are successful in clinical trials but are moving at a snail’s pace through the FDA’s regulatory maze? (more…)


It’s been seventeen years since the rules the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission use to check antitrust aspects of corporate mergers have themselves been reviewed. Brent Kendall of the Wall Street Journal looks into possible DOJ and FTC plans to change — and perhaps to ease — the way large companies join forces.


I mean that’s obviously the most interesting part about this piece by the Wall Street Journal’s Damien Paletta and Deborah Solomon:

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner blasted top U.S. financial regulators in an expletive-laced critique last Friday as frustration grows over the Obama administration’s faltering plan to overhaul U.S. financial regulation, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The proposed regulatory revamp is one of President Barack Obama’s top domestic priorities. But since it was unveiled in June, the plan has been criticized by the financial-services industry, as well as by financial regulators wary of encroachment on their turf.

But this part was also good:

Among those gathered in the Treasury conference room were Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair.

Friday’s roughly hourlong meeting was described as unusual, not only because of Mr. Geithner’s repeated use of obscenities, but because of the aggressive posture he took with officials from federal agencies generally considered independent of the White House. Mr. Geithner reminded attendees that the administration and Congress set policy, not the regulatory agencies.

Not to sound like our Treasury Secretary, but what the %$#& was Bernanke doing in the room? The Fed chair is supposed to be independent of the president, setting monetary policy removed from the political considerations of, say, the largest financial regulatory shake-up since the Great Depression. With its more than one trillion dollars in post-housing bust emergency lending and Bernanke recently on what amounts to a political tour, shouldn’t Congress have oversight of the Fed?

On a related note, I’m not clear how much Geithner’s reminder about who sets policy is completely accurate. My understanding is Schapiro and Bair have a say. They’re not created equal, but each federal agency at least ostensibly has a voice in a president’s policy agenda. Except, that is, the Federal Reserve.-MB


Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones has an interesting piece on the extensive foreign travel of political leaders at the Federal Trade Commission, the federal agency that enforces anti-trust law. According to documents obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request, all five commissioners in 2007 traveled at least 11 days a year outside the U.S. William Kovavic, a commissioner appointed by George W. Bush in 2006, was the most prolific trip taker, spending 123 days out of the country at locales from Aruba to Johannesburg to Paris. It’s not clear how the travel related to the point of the FTC:

All this jetting about appears somewhat out of sync with the commission’s largely domestic role. The FTC’s wide-ranging mandate includes everything from enforcing used car sales regulations to ensuring that clothing manufacturers properly instruct consumers whether or not to put their shirts in the dryer. It runs the "do not call" registry to keep telemarketers at bay and cracks down on bogus weight loss cures. The agency also shares responsibility with the Justice Department for overseeing mergers and acquisitions of big companies and enforcing antitrust laws.

At worst, some of these trips represent a conflict of interest. For example, FTC commissioners went to the 2007 American Bar Association conference where they were "giving exclusive briefings to lawyers of companies they regulate."

Has the globetrotting of Kovavic and other commissioners changed in the Obama administration? No — Kovavic has already spent 60 days in 2009 abroad. New Obama-appointed FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz gushes that Kovavic is a "rock star on the international anti-trust circuit."-MB


The web sites of several government agencies including the Pentagon, the Dept. of Homeland Security, and the Federal Aviation Administration were "infected with rogue software," report Brian Krebs and Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post. The idea behind the cyberattack was to drive up traffic so it would make it harder for regular users to access the site. The Post has some more information (with a somewhat curious hole in their reporting):

A total of 26 Web sites were targeted, according to the researchers. In addition to sites run by government agencies, several commercial Web sites were also attacked, including those operated by Nasdaq, the New York Stock Exchange and The Washington Post. Representatives from could not be reached for comment.

Another security researcher familiar with the attack said there appear to be at least 60,000 infected computers besieging the targeted Web sites. The researcher said a large percentage of those compromised systems were located in South Korea.

What to do about cyber security was brought up in Obama’s visit to Russia. The fact the attack is allegedly coming from South Korea might bolster calls for some kind of international treaty to confront cyber scares.-MB


The New York Times has a headline in today’s business section that "New Mood in Antitrust May Target Google." But the reporting by Steve Lohr and Miguel Helft doesn’t quite bear that out: the Justice Dept. antitrust division may be back from the dead after the Bush administration. Google. though, has yet to do anything that would trigger an investigation:

Google’s power is a cause of worry in many industries — media, advertising, telecommunications and software. Yet being large, successful and ambitious is not an antitrust violation. “You’ve got to be big, and you have to be bad,” observed Andrew I. Gavil, a law professor at Howard University. “You have to be both.”

In the Microsoft case, the software giant’s monopoly in personal computer operating systems was not an antitrust problem. It was its corporate actions, including using contracts and bullying tactics to stifle competition, that broke the law, the federal courts ruled. Such strong-arm practices, legal experts say, have not been part of the Google story.

Ideally, a stronger Justice Dept. and Federal Trade Commission will deter Google from coercive practices. In the meantime, basically every sector in the economy needs a long look, as the Bush administration was an equal opportunity disregarder of anti-trust enforcement.-MB


Christine Varney, the Obama Justice Dept’s newly confirmed head of its antitrust division, announced today that the division would return to its mission of policing monopolistic practices. Varney reversed a September 2008 legal outline by Bush anti-trust head Thomas Barnett that said markets can largely self-correct possible violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Three of the four commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces anti-trust law, had called the Bush anti-trust report  a "blueprint for radically weakened enforcement."

As a piece by Stephen Labaton of the New York Times demonstrated, the Bush administration’s total contempt/indifference to anti-trust law well preceded September 2008:

During the Bush administration, the Justice Department did not file a single case against a dominant firm for violating the antimonopoly law. Many smaller companies complaining of abusive practices by their larger rivals were so frustrated by the Bush administration’s antitrust policy that they went to the European Commission and to Asian authorities.

Like the revamp of the Pentagon budget or enforcement of environmental laws, Varney’s statement today is another example of how the Obama administration needs to make waves just to get the federal government back to its basic priorities and enforcement duties. Labaton’s Times piece is headlined "Administration Plans Tougher Antitrust Action." It’s more accurate to say that the administration plans tougher antitrsut action compared to an administration that had the weakest antitrust action in decades.-MB