When the Federal Trade Commission authorization bill comes to the House floor today, only two amendments will be in order, only one of which has been much publicized.
That one would keep the commission from acting against the funeral home industry.
But the other amendment may be more important. It would require the FTC to keep its hands off agricultural cooperatives.
If it becomes law, its most immediate effect would be to end the FTC's 2-year-old case against Sunkist Growers Inc., the California fruit cooperative, which last year had sales of about $513 million.
Consequently, Sunkist has been a leader in efforts to drum up support for the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Mark Andrews (R-N.D.), through Congress. The company has sent letters to members of Congress from the western citrus region, urging support for the amendment, without mentioning what its enactment would mean to Sunkist.
"The attempted FTC usurpation of authority in these two areas not only results in harassment of farmers and cooperatives, but also is a waste of public funds," wrote Sunkist Vice President William K. Quarles, in an Oct. 26 letter to Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.).
The FTC's complaint charges that Sunkist controls 75 percent of the production and marketing of western oranges and lemons and has engaged in anticompetitive particles in maintaining that slice.
But the cancellation of the Sunkist case, which most experts say would be the result of passage of the Andrews amendment, would be unprecedented congressional interference in an ongoing law-enforcement proceeding, according to antitrust observers.
Fifteen antitrust professors from prestigious law schools, a list that includes former Justice Department antitrust chief Thomas Kauper and former assistant chief Johathan Rose, have called the funding cutoff "grossly inappropriate."
"Such interference in ongoing proceedings is repugnant to a tradition which intended to protect the accuracy, fairness and political neutrality of administrative and adjudicatory functions," they wrote in a recent telegram to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.).
The House is thought likely to approve the Andrews amendment. Other agricultural co-ops -- powerful organizations in farm states -- have joined Sunkist in supporting it.
Agriculatural co-ops were granted partial antitrust immunity under the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922. The co-ops say that that act is supposed to be enforced by the Agriculture Department, not the FTC. They claim the FTC is meedling where it does not belong.
"Sunkist is the symbolic subject of the FTC's attempts to get into the whole business of agricultural cooperatives," said Rep. Charles Pashayan Jr. (R-Calif.), a supporter of the Andrews amendment and the Sunkist cause."That kind of government regulation has no place in these times."
Sunkist has a great deal at stake in the case against it. The FTC has asked for divestiture of a Sunkist plant, land, and other facilities.
The five-count complaint alleges that, through contractual agreement, Sunkist prevents other growers from dealing with certain marketing companies, and alleges that Sunkist withholds products from the market, thus stabilizing prices.
House members originally wanted to add a fairly long list of restrictions to the FTC bill, to keep the agency from acting against a variety of industries and companies. The funeral home and Andrews amendments are the only ones that survived.
Fourteen members of Congress, including Rodino, Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.), chairman of a House consumer subcommittee, and Rep. Bob Eckhardt (D-Tex.), chairman of a House oversight subcommittee, have sent a letter to other members opposing the Andrews amendment.
"Should Congress limit the FTC's jurisdiction to challenge antitrust violations in one industry, it will become increasingly difficult to resist similar piecemeal special-interest amendments to the antitrust laws for industries subject to an adverse antitrust judgement," they wrote.