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FTC's nominee's 'paper trail' leaves plenty to scrutinize

by William McConnell In Washington  |  Published September 14, 2012 at 3:59 PM
Joshua Wright, whom President Obama nominated to the Federal Trade Commission on Sept. 10, has produced a physical and virtual "paper trail" that includes not only the bundle of academic papers expected of a George Mason University law professor, but also numerous blogs and Twitter messages on mergers and antitrust as well as other areas of law and economics.

Wright, who earned his law degree from UCLA in 2002 and his Ph.D. in economics there a year later, was picked to fill the seat of retiring Republican Tom Rosch. Wright is the first member of the social media generation nominated to the FTC and it will be interesting to see how the Democratic-controlled Senate reacts to his online prolificacy.

Wright's traditional academic writings -- which are very heavy on economic theory -- are as impenetrable to untrained scholars as any economist's and are unlikely to provide much that lawmakers will understand, let alone object to.

But his blogging and tweeting, though still rooted in scholarship, are often peppered with the conservative Wright's blunt and unequivocal criticisms of previous FTC and Department of Justice actions against high-profile mergers and other types of competitive conduct and against activists' many calls for tougher action on the antitrust front.

For instance, his post to the Truth on the Market blog labeled the DOJ's attempt earlier this year to impose licensing terms on Google Inc.'s purchase of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc.'s patent portfolio a "problematic attack on property rights through merger review."

Similarly, he said the DOJ's earlier declaration that AT&T Inc.'s attempt to acquire T-Mobile USA Inc. would harm competition was "embarrassingly confronted" by a rise in the stock price of Sprint Nextel Corp., an AT&T rival. If the deal truly harmed competition, Sprint as well as AT&T would have been able to raise prices after the merger. Therefore, Wright reasoned, if the deal had truly been anticompetitive Sprint's stock should have fallen when the merger was stopped.

Wright doesn't seem the type likely to back down from past utterances when he appears before lawmakers vetting his nomination. Testifying before a House Judiciary subcommittee in March, Wright opposed a bill sponsored by fellow Republican Thomas Marino of Pennsylvania that have would exempted independent pharmacies from antitrust laws so they can collectively negotiate reimbursement rates with health plans and health insurers. The legislation was introduced as speculation over the FTC's review of Medco Health Solutions Inc.'s takeover by rival pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts Inc. was reaching fever pitch. The FTC approved the deal a few days later in spite of objections from the community pharmacists Marino was trying to help. The local pharmacists said the deal would make it harder for them to compete against big drugstore chains.

Wright pointed out the industry-specific exemptions to antitrust laws are opposed by nearly every expert in competition law. "Antitrust exemptions not only pose a risk to consumers, they also are generally unnecessary to achieve legitimate, procompetitive ends," he told the panel.

Wright joined George Mason's law school faculty in 2005 and was named associate professor in 2010. He also served as the FTC's first Scholar in Residence from January 2007 to July 2008. He also has taught at Pepperdine University and UCLA and clerked for Judge James V. Selna of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California from 2003 to 2004. He also has been employed by economic consulting firms Charles River Associates and Law and Economics Consulting Group.

Tags: antitrust | AT&T Inc. | Charles River Associates | Department of Justice | Federal Trade Commission | FTC | George Mason University | Google Inc. | Joshua Wright | Law and Economics Consulting Group | mergers | Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. | President Obama | T-Mobile USA Inc. | Thomas Marino | Tom Rosch | Twitter

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