Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Muris Nomination

May 16, 2001. The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Timothy Muris to be Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. The hearing, which covered several other nominees as well, went smoothly for Muris, and all nominees. Republicans and Democrats expressed their support. Members questioned Muris about both online privacy and antitrust enforcement, but he said little in response.

Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) said "I look forward to moving these nominations quickly." He added that the Committee will likely vote next week. See also, prepared statement of McCain.

The FTC is important to technology because of its antitrust authority; it is one of three agencies exercising antitrust merger review authority over transactions involving technology companies. It is also important because of its consumer protection authority. It has taken action against online fraud under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. It has also advocated that Congress pass legislation giving it authority to regulate online privacy.

Muris Biography. Muris held several top positions at the FTC during the Reagan administration, including Director of the Bureau of Competition, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, and Assistant to the Director of the Office of Policy, Planning & Evaluation. He was also Deputy Counsel to President Reagan's Task Force on Regulatory Relief and Executive Associate Director of the Office of Management & Budget. Prior to being nominated to be FTC Chairman, Muris was a professor at George Mason University School of Law.

Views on Antitrust. Muris said little about how he would act as Chairman. He addressed antitrust law in his opening statement. He read a prepared statement [PDF]: "Regarding antitrust, bipartisan consensus also exists. Although there is disagreement about cases at the margin, there is widespread agreement that the purpose of antitrust is to protect consumers, that economic analysis should guide case selection, and that horizontal cases, both mergers and agreements among competitors, are the mainstays of antitrust. Moreover, today there is bipartisan recognition that antitrust is a way of organizing our economy. A freely functioning market, subject to the rules of antitrust, provides maximum benefit to consumers."

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC), the ranking Democrat on the Committee, pressed him on this topic; but he stated little else. Muris did add that "I do think that one has to look closely at monopolization" and "there are good monopolization cases, and I would have no hesitation to bring a good case, if I thought it was a good case."

Views on Online Privacy. Sens. McCain and Hollings both asked about online privacy. McCain asked, "Do you agree with the FTC's recommendation that Congress should enact legislation to regulate the collection and use consumer information on line?" Muris did not take a position. "Obviously, it is a very important question. And, I think the FTC has done several very beneficially things. It has provided information to the Congress and to the public. It has been partly responsible for making the issue as prominent as it is. It has brought important cases, I think, in the areas of deceptive and fraudulent spam, in pretexting, and identity theft. It has had an excellent roll in that. ... The specific issue of legislation is a new issue to me, and I have been, I've been studying it. I think it is a very complex issue, and at this time I have no specific legislative recommendation. But, it is one that I would hope to be educated on by Members of Congress, by privacy advocates, by business groups, and by my future colleagues, if confirmed.

Sen. Hollings pursued the issue further, but Muris said little else. He added that "the issue is really new to me" and "I am not yet ready to say which type of legislation, if any, is preferable."