Thursday, April 15, 2010

Senate Judiciary Committee’s DOJ Oversight Hearing Touches on Antitrust Issues

This posting was written by Jeffrey May, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

The “Antitrust Division’s revitalized enforcement” was among the “many good things” accomplished by the Justice Department over the last year, Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) said, commencing a Department of Justice oversight hearing held yesterday by the Senate Judiciary committee.

“Revitalized Enforcement”

Kohl applauded Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for his efforts. Kohl said that, “as our economy rebounds, the Antitrust Division’s revitalized enforcement has fostered a competitive marketplace that encourages innovation and economic development while ensuring consumers have access to high quality goods at the best prices.”

In prepared testimony, the attorney general touted merger enforcement efforts as well as cartel enforcement at the Justice Department Antitrust Division.

“The Department has acted against six merger transactions already in Fiscal Year 2010, reaching settlements to protect competition in the vast majority, including the combination of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, and is currently litigating against Dean Foods, the nation’s largest dairy processor,” Attorney General Holder said. He also noted that the nearly a quarter of a billion in criminal fines were obtained against Antitrust Division defendants so far in the current fiscal year.

While the Justice Department’s role in fighting terrorism was the focus of much of the hearing, antitrust issues were discussed. Before turning to non-antitrust issues, Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) thanked Attorney General Holder for the Justice Department’s efforts to put on joint antitrust hearings with the Department of Agriculture on the topic of competition in the agriculture marketplace.

The first hearing in the series was held in Iowa on March 12. Attorney General Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were in attendance.

Comcast/NBC Universal Merger

Senator Al Franken (D, Minn.) expressed his concerns with the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC Universal, now under review by the Department of Justice.

In light of his experience in the entertainment industry, Franken offered his assistance to the Justice Department as it reviews the transaction. The attorney general said that the Justice Department would be glad to work with him and listen to his concerns.

Senator Franken has expressed concern with the enforceability of potential commitments offered by the parties to resolve federal antitrust concerns. He said that he wanted to make sure that merger conditions have “enough teeth” and “long enough life.”

Attorney General Holder said that he was not at liberty to talk about Comcast/NBC deal specifically because of the ongoing investigation. He did say, however, that the Justice Department has enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with conditions imposed on merging parties.

Links to a webcast of the Judiciary Committee’s April 14 hearing, as well as Attorney General Holder’s prepared testimony and Senator Kohl’s remarks, are available here.

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