FTC Chairman Set to Leave Post

Deborah Platt Majoras plans to step down next month and join Procter & Gamble as vice president and general counsel in June.
Deborah Platt Majoras plans to step down next month and join Procter & Gamble as vice president and general counsel in June. (Dennis Brack - Bloomberg News)
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By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008

The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Deborah Platt Majoras, plans to step down next month, the agency announced yesterday.

Majoras, 44, will join Procter & Gamble in June as vice president and general counsel, with primary responsibility for its global antitrust and litigation practice areas, company spokeswoman Robyn Schroeder said.

The White House has not named a replacement, FTC spokeswoman Nancy Judy said. A successor will likely be one of the two other Republican commissioners, William E. Kovacic and J. Thomas Rosch. Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour is an independent, and Jonathan Leibowitz is the panel's lone Democrat. The commission can function without a chair, Judy said.

Reached at her home last night, Majoras declined to comment beyond a written statement the agency released yesterday.

Majoras received high marks from industry representatives and consumer advocates for her knowledge of the issues and willingness to listen to all sides.

"She's a great lawyer, a tough negotiator and really cares about consumer protection," said C. Lee Peeler, a former FTC official and current president of the National Advertising Review Council, an industry self-regulatory body.

Leibowitz also had praise for Majoras.

"She has been a chairman always committed to the mission of the agency," he said.

During Majoras's four-year tenure, companies such as DirecTV and Ameriquest Mortgage paid millions in fines to settle charges of illegal telemarketing. Zango, the world's largest distributor of adware, paid a $3 million fine over allegations it installed ads on millions of computers without their owners' knowledge. The FTC also brought cases against several pharmaceutical companies, alleging that they paid generic-drug makers in an effort to keep generic versions of brand-name medications off the market.

Majoras also endured her share of controversy. Lawmakers and consumer groups were outraged after the FTC concluded that the oil industry did not engage in price gouging after Hurricane Katrina. The FTC faced criticism for tackling childhood obesity by calling on soda, cereal and snack-food companies to change their marketing practices, an approach favored by the industry but not consumer groups who view self-regulation as too weak.

Perhaps the agency's toughest task has been figuring out how to protect consumers from unfair, deceptive and anti-competitive practices in the digital age. In this area, the Majoras era received mixed reviews. Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, credited Majoras for making the FTC "one of the leading enforcement bodies in the world" on spyware and spam.

Representatives for Internet service providers such as AT&T, Qwest and Alcatel-Lucent praised Majoras's stance against "net neutrality" regulations that try to ensure that providers don't favor certain kinds of content over others.

"She adopted a light touch, deregulatory approach that is completely consistent with where we stand," said Danielle Coffey, head of government affairs for the Telecommunications Industry Association. "She was wise to be so cautious."

Consumer advocates who support net neutrality regulation said the Majoras-led FTC has been too laissez faire with respect to the Internet, including online marketers' increasing use of data collected from consumers to try to influence their behavior.

In the area of enforcement, they said the FTC was slow to scrutinize data brokers that aggregate and sell personal information. Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the agency ignored its 2004 request to investigate data broker practices. In 2006, the FTC fined ChoicePoint, the nation's largest data broker, $10 million, but only after news reports surfaced that the company had sold the dossiers of more than 100,000 consumers to identify thieves.

Before her appointment as chairman in 2004, Majoras had been a partner at the law firm Jones Day and a principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

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