WASHINGTON — A red-hot Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) threatened Tuesday to slash the salaries of Bush administration officials who engineered a plan to give John Ashcroft’s Dept. of Justice sole authority for reviewing media mergers vs. the bipartisan Federal Trade Commission.
Hollings told FTC topper Timothy Muris during a budget hearing that Muris and assistant attorney general Charles James had no authority to restructure the merger review process without first getting Capitol Hill approval.
“We’re studying to see legally whether or not we can cut pay. This administration has run amok,” Hollings said. “I can tell you here and now that we know how to act.”
For more than five decades, the FTC and DOJ split up corporate merger reviews on a piecemeal basis. Under the new agreement, all media/entertainment mergers would go to DOJ for antitrust review, while the FTC would get its own set of industries.
Hollings, who chairs the committee responsible for clearing the FTC’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, said it is within his purview to hold up the FTC budget, including salaries. The pol also threatened to cut staff positions as well as to take away the FTC’s discretionary authority to shift certain funds as needed.
Further, Hollings could seek to cut staffers or salaries at the Dept. of Justice.
It’s unlikely that Hollings could get the support of the Senate to take such punitive action, but he can certainly make things difficult for the FTC.
Muris continued to defend the merger review restructuring at Tuesday’s hearing, saying it will eliminate turf wars between the FTC and DOJ that resulted in unnecessary delays in the merger review process. He said the DOJ actually has more experience in reviewing media/entertainment mergers.
“I think it’s better if we don’t fight with DOJ,” Muris said.
‘You’re so top secret’
Hollings, who was enraged earlier at not being notified of the plan, shot back that Muris might be better suited for a job at the Central Intelligence Agency. “You’re so top secret,” he said.
Hollings and consumer advocates say the FTC plays a critical role in eyeballing media mergers, since it is an independent agency governed by bipartisan commissioners.
Thus far, Hollings won’t listen to the argument that the DOJ has indeed reviewed more media mergers than has the FTC.
“What I had to say today speaks for itself,” Muris told reporters after the contentious session.
In another area having an impact on showbiz, Muris said in his testimony that the FTC has budgeted funds to complete another follow-up report on the marketing of violent, R-rated pics to kids. That report is due this summer.