Thursday, January 17, 2008

Experts Weigh In on Presidential Candidates’ Prospective Antitrust Enforcement Policies

This posting was written by John W. Arden.

One of the relatively few issues not discussed in the scores of debates already conducted by presidential candidates is antitrust enforcement. Thus, we are reduced to speculation of the type put forth by “antitrust experts” in a January 13 Reuters article entitled “Most presidential hopefuls antitrust moderates.”

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would be “marginally more active” in enforcing antitrust laws, while Republicans Mike Huckabee and John McCain are harder to predict, the article said.

At least the Clinton assessment is based on her Senate activities—which included co-sponsoring a bill to restore per se illegal treatment of vertical price fixing agreements (S. 2261)—in addition to the antitrust record of her husband’s administration.

There was a split in the opinions about Senator Obama’s prospective position on federal antitrust enforcement. One expert speculated that Obama’s experience teaching law at the University of Chicago would push his views to the “pro-market” side, while another expert opined that Obama’s Harvard Law School background would encourage a moderate viewpoint.

John Edwards was considered likely to be the most aggressive on antitrust, based on his populist, anti-corporate campaign themes. On the other hand, Governor Huckabee is portrayed as “the biggest wild card” because of his lack of a track record on antitrust. Although Senator John McCain “talks tough on business issues,” he is more concerned with corporate fraud and waste than competition issues, the experts say.

In Their Own Words

Those interested in what the candidates actually have to say on these issues can peruse statements prepared by Obama and Edwards for the American Antitrust Institute (AAI).

In his statement, Obama promised to “reinvigorate antitrust enforcement” by stepping up review of merger activity, taking aggressive action to curb the growth of international cartels, monitoring key industries to ensure that consumers realize the benefits of competition, and strengthening competition advocacy domestically and in the international community.

“At home, for more than a century, there has been broad bipartisan support for vigorous antitrust enforcement, to protect competition and foster innovation and economic growth,” the statement continued. “Regrettably, the current administration has what may be the weakest record of antitrust enforcement of any administration in the last half century.”

Edwards declared in an October 2 statment that “we desperately need strong antitrust enforcement in America” to protect small businesses, farmers, and families and to encourage innovation “in every sector of the economy.”

If elected president, the former senator pledged to launch specific initiatives to (1) protect livestock farmers who are “at the mercy of big agribusiness”; (2) help small physician groups who are “being squeezed by insurance companies”; and (3) relieve consumers from having to pay artificially high prices for gasoline from vertically-integrated oil companies.

The AAI asked all of the presidential candidates to submit statements. However, only Obama and Edwards have done so.

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