Majoras' Google-Doubleclick involvement questioned

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Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras issued a statement on December 14 that she would not recuse herself from the pending review of the proposed Google-Doubleclick merger.


This was in response to a December 12 complaint from two privacy groups, Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, asking for Majoras' recusal due to a suspected conflict of interest with the Washington law firm Jones Day, where Majoras worked before being appointed to the FTC by President Bush in 2004 and where her husband is currently a partner.


In their petition, the privacy groups submitted a copy of a Jones Day Web page highlighting the firm's “experience details” while working with DoubleClick Inc. “on the international and US antitrust and competition law aspects of its planned $3.1 billion acquisition by Google Inc.”


However, DoubleClick denied in a statement that that it hired the law firm to represent it before the FTC.


“Jones Day has been engaged primarily with respect to European and other non-U.S. jurisdictions,” the statement said. It continued, “Jones Day was not engaged to represent, and has not represented DoubleClick before the Federal Trade Commission or appeared before the Commission on DoubleClick's behalf.”


Claudia Farrell, an FTC spokeswoman, confirmed that Jones Day had not appeared before the FTC in regards to the Google-Doubleclick merger.


In her statement, Majoras says that no one at the FTC was aware that Jones Day was involved in the European Commission review until December 11, at which time she immediately contacted the FTC's Ethics official and asked him to “undertake a conflict of interest analysis.”

Majoras also noted that her husband is a non-equity partner at Jones Day with no financial interest in the firm's income. He did not represent any party in the Google-DoubleClick matter, she wrote.

FTC Commissioner William E. Kovacic, whose wife also works for Jones Day, issued a statement on December 14 indicating that he agreed with Majoras's analysis.

“Further, even though the petition does not ask for my recusal, I want my position to be clear to avoid any future questions relating to this issue,” he wrote. “Because, like the chairman, I do not have any current conflicts in this matter, I have determined not to recuse myself.”

The FTC investigation, which began in late May, is one of several the merger faces. The deal's impact on the online advertising industry faces scrutiny from the European Commission, a US Senate Committee and others.


In response to the chairman's announcement, Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy issued a joint statement arguing that the chairman did not make a persuasive case against recusal. The chairman's husband is both “an antirust expert for the firm” and his “key responsibility for his firm is business development in WashingtonDC,” they wrote.


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