Washington -- With major media mergers pending federal review, a senior
Department of Justice official Wednesday bemoaned the use of political campaigns
to influence antitrust-enforcement actions.
Deborah Platt Majoras, deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust, said
a pattern had developed in which companies seeking antitrust action against
competitors have departed from a merits-based legal approach to one
characterized by lobbying and media campaigns.
Majoras, speaking to an investor conference here hosted by The Precursor
Group, called the trend an unfortunate development involving 'strategic use of
government process' in lieu of battling it out in the marketplace.
'It's clear that as industries have been deregulated, companies have turned
to the antitrust agencies to almost take the place of regulatory agencies,' she
said. 'Prominent antitrust lawyers are in danger of losing their credibility
before the agencies if they allow the line between aggressive antitrust advocacy
and pure lobbying in the political sense to take over.'
Majoras is expected to have a role in the DOJ's review of the $25.8 billion
merger between EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc.
Opponents of the deal -- including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. -- are
expected to lean on the DOJ to kill the deal as anti-competitive. News Corp.,
for example, did not file merger comments this week at the Federal
Communications Commission, which also must approve the merger.
Either the DOJ or the Federal Trade Commission will need to review the
biggest cable-television merger ever, the $72 billion deal between AT&T
Corp. and Comcast Corp.
In her comments, Majoras said efforts to influence the DOJ are shaping up to
be political events that have little to do with antitrust analysis rooted in
antitrust-enforcement precedents and court decisions.
'Competitors . are going way beyond providing interviews and documents. They
are making use of lobbyists and PR [public-relations] firms to try to influence
our enforcement decisions, not necessarily on the merits, but through the media,
lobbying Congress and, yes, through attempts to lobby us,' she said.
Without naming names, Majoras said she was threatened by a Microsoft Corp.
rival who promised to withhold any further assistance if the DOJ failed to adopt
the rival's solution for dealing with the software giant it had sued for
'One of Microsoft's competitors last fall threatened me that if we did not do
as his client wished, we could count on the fact that we would never again get
any more help from Silicon Valley in any investigation we did in the future,'
Majoras' boss -- assistant attorney general for antitrust Charles James --
was criticized for reaching a settlement with Microsoft that some competitors
and some state attorneys general considered too lenient.
Majoras said the danger she saw in the political campaigns is that if
enforcement actions are not based on the law but on politics, companies one day
could find themselves 'looking down the barrel' of an action they had previously
sought as competitors.
Merger reviews and antitrust actions should be left to the DOJ and companies
should curtail the practice of using the DOJ to score points against
competitors, she added.
'Stop devoting so much time to lobbying and get out there and innovate and
we'll all do our job a lot better. Leave the finger-pointing to us,' she