On Friday, the White House announced President Obama will nominate Terrell McSweeny to fill the open Democratic commissioner seat at the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. McSweeny is no stranger to Washington or politics, having worked in government and on political campaigns for almost a decade.
Shortly after graduating from Harvard University, Ms. McSweeny worked on the Gore/Lieberman campaign as assistant to the national spokesman. She returned to Washington after the election to pursue a law degree at Georgetown University Law Center. She then worked as an associate at O’Melveny & Myers before becoming the Deputy Director of Policy for Wes Clark for President in 2003.
McSweeny began work for then-Senator Joe Biden, in 2005, as his Deputy Chief of Staff and as Counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Former Chairman Leibowitz shared a similar background having close ties to Senator Kohl serving as his chief counsel and as Democratic Chief Counsel to the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.) McSweeny transitioned to the Obama campaign with Biden in 2008, to serve as the Issues Director for the Vice President. After the election, Ms. McSweeny worked as Deputy Assistant to the President and Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President until 2012. During that time, she blogged on WhiteHouse.gov, mostly related to the administration’s Middle Class Task Force.
For the past year, Ms. McSweeney has served as Chief Counsel for Competition Policy and Intergovernmental Relations in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. In that capacity, she signed the November 2012 antitrust complaint against eBay, alleging eBay and Intuit had entered into an anticompetitive anti-poaching agreement that “prohibited either company from soliciting one another’s employees . . . and, for over a year, prevented at least eBay from hiring any employees from Intuit at all.”
Ms. McSweeney signed off on comments submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which cautioned that requiring increased transparency in natural gas markets may “increase substantially the risk of coordination” among companies. She also signed comments to the Federal Communications Commission in April 2013, encouraging it to promulgate rules that allow for smaller nationwide wireless networks to acquire lower-frequency spectrum.
We would expect with her background that she will focus more of her attention and priorities on competition matters rather than consumer protection, at least initially, but given that the CP side is so interesting (at least to us) it would not be uncommon for a commissioner with a largely antitrust background to spark CP interests be they privacy, advertising or marketing.
Since Chairman Leibowitz stepped down, there has been an equal number of commissioners on either side of the fence – Republican Commissioners Ohlhausen and Wright, and Democratic Commissioner Brill and Chairwoman Ramirez. Once nominated by the President, Ms. McSweeny must be confirmed by the Senate, but assuming all goes well for her during the confirmation process, adding McSweeny will give the Democrats their third seat. As a younger commissioner, it will be interesting to see if Ms. McSweeny embraces social media the way Commissioner Wright has. It is certainly a historic and exciting time for the women of the antitrust and consumer protection bars when for the first time in FTC history there will be four female commissioners and two female Bureau Directors (Debbie Feinstein and Jessica Rich).
*John is a Venable summer associate and not admitted to practice law.