The Jones Day, Google/DoubleClick & FTC conflict of interest: a higher standard is required by the agency

Our lawyers are advising my organization on this matter, but I want to remind readers of one point. John Majoras of Jones Day is listed on its web site as the “Partner-in-Charge of business development in the Washington, D.C. Office and is a member of the Firmwide Business Development Committee.” [better read it now before Jones Day removes it!]

In that position, his role raises conflicts of interest with cases involving the FTC, in my opinion. With an issue involving the future of the Internet and the fate of digital media in a democracy, the highest standards are required. Chairman Majoras should have recused herself in this case. Jones Day should not have taken on DoubleClick as a client. Jones Day’s removal of the web pages discussing its role as advising DoubleClick in both the U.S. and EU raises serious questions about the firm’s activities in this merger case. There are so many key questions that must be publicly resolved. When did Jones Day begin representing DoubleClick? When did it announce, via its website, internal communications system, and through its representation with clients, regulators, and other outside parties, that it was representing DoubleClick? Did the FTC staff learn of the relationship between their boss’s husband’s law firm and the merger? (Please don’t tell me that such a relationship, even if spread informally, doesn’t have an impact on the proceeding.)

The public requires the highest standards of conduct from its public officials and leading law firms. This incident illustrates that more must be done to make such institutions accountable. Yesterday’s FOIA request by EPIC asking that the FTC provide it with all records related to its communications with Jones Day in this merger case (and related privacy issues) is a step in the direction of obtaining some sunshine.

Over the last six months, we have been focused on the business and privacy issues related to the Google and DoubleClick merger. We knew a huge lobbying operation was in effect, with Google having added significant political capacity in D.C., and various competitors (Microsoft, the phone companies, Yahoo!) jockeying for position. Our job at CDD was to provide some honest analysis about the realities of the online advertising business–its market structure, goals, and privacy threats. We didn’t have the time–nor the resources–to dig into the political aspects of the issue. Sadly, there was little serious journalism on the deal as well. But last Monday we decided to examine what role Jones Day was playing in the Google merger and learned–via its website–that it represented DoubleClick.

This case illustrates something we all know. That the big money and special interest nature of Washington politics is at odds with the concerns and needs of the average American. As I said, a higher standard is required–for public service, disclosure and intellectual rigor (something we believe the FTC has failed to do in this case and related privacy matters). It’s a story that not going away. That’s why we are writing about it–and keeping a watch as well!

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