FTC Chair's Impartiality Questioned

Family ties to DoubleClick could prevent the FTC's Deborah Platt Majoras from voting on the proposed Google-DoubleClick merger.

Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras should recuse herself from voting on the Google-DoubleClick deal because her husband works for the law firm representing DoubleClick, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy said Dec. 12 in an FTC filing.

Both organizations have jointly filed a petition with the FTC opposed to the proposed $3.1 billion merger.

Majoras' husband, John M. Majoras, is an equity partner specializing in antitrust issues and business development with the powerful Washington law firm, Jones Day. In addition, the EFF filing said, the FTC chairwoman was a partner in Jones Day's antitrust section prior to joining the government.

The filing further adds that Deborah Platt Majoris recused herself at least three times previously when cases involving Jones Day came before the FTC.

"A reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question the Chairman's impartiality in this matter," the filing states. "The direct and predictable financial interest is on the spouse of the Chairman whose firm does not simply represent a party before the Commission but who himself is directly responsible for the firm's business development in Washington, D.C."

The filing further complains that the chairwoman, "Failed to notify the petitioners (EPIC and CDD) and the public of this arrangement."

The FTC does not comment on pending complaints before the agency.

The acquisition would combine two of the biggest players in online advertising. Google's text-based AdSense business is based on clickable links, while DoubleClick's technology places targeted banner ads and other display advertising on popular online sites. Critics of the deal have raised both antitrust and privacy concerns over the merger.

EPIC, CDD and U.S. PIRG filed their complaint attempting to block the deal in April, arguing the acquisition will give Google unprecedented ability to "record, analyze, track and profile" the activities of Internet users.

In the Dec. 12 filing, the groups said, "Petitioners have sought to represent the public interest in a merger review of enormous consequence for the American public. Petitioners respect the right of the parties to the merger to vigorously present their case."

The filing adds: "However, Petitioners do not accept the premise that the spouse of the chairman should represent a client in the pending matter and profit from an outcome that is favorable to the client."

According to the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, a government employee should recuse when the employee knows "that a particular matter involving specific parties is likely to have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interest of a member of his household, or knows that a person with whom he has a covered relationship is or represents a party to such matter."

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