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Top FTC economist is possible nominee for chairman's post - source

by William McConnell In Washington  |  Published November 28, 2012 at 1:39 PM
Howard Shelanski, a lawyer and economist well known in antitrust circles, is among the contenders to replace Jon Leibowitz as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, according to people familiar with the matter.

He joins Democratic FTC Commissioners Julie Brill and Edith Ramirez on the short list of candidates to replace Leibowitz.

One former FTC member said it's too early in the vetting process to declare any individual a front-runner and cautioned that new names could appear on the radar too, particularly if Democratic members of Congress push their own picks for the position.

Shelanski, director of the FTC's Bureau of Economics, has been in and out of the agency since first coming to work at the commission in 2009.

Shelanski returned to the FTC in July, replacing Joseph Farrell, who exited to resume his teaching career.

Shelanski had been away from the FTC for a little less than a year, having quit as deputy director of the economics bureau in August 2011 to join Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP as counsel. As deputy director of the Bureau of Economics, he was responsible for the bureau's antitrust portfolio and was part of the team that revised the FTC/Department of Justice Horizontal Merger Guidelines.

Before his first stint at the FTC, he was a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, serving at the school from 1997 to 2009.

While on the faculty he served brief postings in Washington, first as a senior economist to the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1998 to 1999 and then as chief economist of the Federal Communications Commission from 1999 to 2000. Since 2009 he has also taught at Georgetown University Law Center.

Shelanski received his J.D. from UC-Berkeley in 1992 and his Ph.D. in economics from there in 1993. After graduating from law school, he clerked for Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Judge Louis H. Pollak of the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia and Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court. Shelanski practiced law with the Washington firm of Kellogg Huber Hansen Todd & Evans before joining the Berkeley faculty.

Shelanski is regarded as more amenable to working out remedies that allow mergers to be approved than Brill or Ramirez. For instance, sources close to negotiations with the FTC over Hertz Global Holdings Inc.'s acquisition of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc. said he was instrumental in resolving Bureau of Economics staff concerns about the merger. In that deal, Hertz earlier this month was required to sell its Advantage Rent A Car unit as well as the rights to operate 29 Dollar Thrifty airport rental locations around the country.

"Brill and Ramirez are seen as more willing to oppose mergers, whereas Howard's background as an economist leads him to be more willing to accept merging parties' arguments for efficiencies that might counterbalance the consumer harm posed by a deal," one antitrust source said.

Brill has been outspoken in expressing reservations about two other deals reviewed by the commission, Grifols SA's 2011 purchase of blood products rival Talecris Biotherapeutics Holdings Corp. and Express Scripts Inc.'s acquisition of rival pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health Solutions Inc. in April of this year. Both were high-profile, controversial mergers of direct competitors, and she was pointed in her skepticism about the companies' arguments defending the deals. Brill opposed the Medco deal and concurred with the Talecris takeover, but in both cases offered detailed reasons to doubt approval was justified.

Before joining the commission, Ramirez was partner in the Los Angeles office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, where she specialized in business litigation involving copyright, trademark, and antitrust and unfair competition claims. She was a Harvard University classmate of President Obama on the Harvard Law Review and worked for Obama's campaign as the Latino outreach director in California. During her tenure at the FTC, her most public action on the merger front was penning the commission's December 2010 order to break up Polypore International Inc.'s acquisition of Microporous Products LP. The commission said the acquisition harmed competition in the market for battery separators.

Tags: Advantage Rent A Car | Bureau of Economics | Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP | DOJ | Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc. | Edith Ramirez | Federal Trade Commission | FTC | Hertz Global Holdings Inc. | Horizontal Merger Guidelines | Howard Shelanski | Jon Leibowitz | Julie Brill | University of California at Berkeley

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