FTC Chairman Denies Conflict in Google Case

By Catherine Rampell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 15, 2007

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said yesterday that she will not recuse herself from reviewing the proposed merger of Google and DoubleClick. Two privacy groups had asked her to step aside upon learning that her husband works for a law firm that represents DoubleClick.

Majoras also worked for the firm, Jones Day.

Commissioner William E. Kovacic, whose wife, Kathryn M. Fenton, works for Jones Day, also said he would not recuse himself from reviewing the merger. The privacy groups had not asked him to do so.

Google dominates the market for selling text-based online advertising. DoubleClick is the leader in online display ads.

In a written statement, Majoras said there was no ethical or legal conflict because her husband, John M. Majoras, is not an equity partner and therefore his compensation "will not be increased or affected by changes in the firm's income." Also, she said, the firm represents DoubleClick only in Europe.

Fenton also is a non-equity partner.

Jeffrey A. Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said Jones Day's Web site indicated otherwise. On Monday he noticed that the firm's site said it was "advising DoubleClick Inc . . . on the international and U.S. antitrust and competition law aspects of its planned $3.1 billion acquisition by Google Inc. . . . The transaction is currently under review by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and European Commission."

The page has since been removed from Jones Day's site.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which also petitioned for Majoras to recuse herself, yesterday filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine whether Jones Day lobbied the FTC on the Google-DoubleClick merger.

The privacy groups oppose the merger because, they said, it would give one company too much private information about consumers.

Commissioners Pamela Jones Harbour, Jon Leibowitz and J. Thomas Rosch issued a statement in support of Majoras's and Kovacic's decisions.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company