The Effective Commissioner

It is unclear what the “right stuff” is for being a Commissioner. Highly-qualified candidates are sometimes duds but those without economic or legal training can shine (e.g. Chairman Steiger, or the secondary-school educated Commissioner Hurley). While political patronage is often bemoaned, all Commissioners are political to some extent, and strongly connected ones are often very effective (e.g. Chairman Muris). Political party is also not a reliable indicator. While consumer protection is traditionally a Democratic-party hobby horse, Republican Chairmen are some of the Agency’s most beloved and bold leaders (e.g. Chairmen Kirkpatrick, Weinberger, and Muris). Conflicts of interest also do not explain laggard Commissioners; some who represented industry join the Agency and pursue its interests with vigor.

President Wilson is said to have wanted Commission membership to have three lawyers and two business leaders, and that the membership be geographically diverse.[1] But lawyers have predominated and it is common to have an all-lawyer Commission.

In a 1997 article, William E. Kovacic examined leadership of the Commission broadly and proposed a model for makeup of the Agency’s membership: all candidates should have significant accomplishments in areas relevant to FTC practice, one of the five Commissioners should be an economist, one member should have significant business experience, and at least one should have significant consumer protection or antitrust policymaking experience.[2]

[1] Pendleton Herring, The Federal Trade Commissioners, 8 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 339 (1939); James M. Graham, Appointments to the regulatory agencies the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, 1949-1974 (1976).

[2] William E. Kovacic, The Quality of Appointments and the Capability of the Federal Trade Commission, 49 Admin. L. Rev. 915 (1997).

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