Top consumer advocate under Clinton dies at 88
Robert Pitofsky, who as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission in the Clinton administration advocated for stricter enforcement of competition and greater protection for consumers, died last Saturday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 88.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his son David said.
Pitofsky was a leading figure in competition law. An antitrust scholar and a former dean of the Georgetown University law school, he wove in and out of government, private law practice and academia throughout his career.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton appointed Pitofsky to head theFTC, at the time a sleepy agency referred to as “the little old lady of Pennsylvania Avenue.” Pitofsky sought to call attention to the growing threat of corporate consolidation, particularly with the rise of technology. During his tenure, the agency became the central watchdog for the internet and technology industries.
“There is at this agency a willingness to challenge the most powerful companies in the world, when those companies have done wrong, in the name of the less powerful,” Pitofsky said in 2001.
Pitofsky won support from consumer groups that had pushed for greater scrutiny of mergers and stronger consumer protection in matters like deceptive advertising. But he was also criticized by free-market conservatives and antitrust lawyers, who said he was trying to expand antitrust enforcement too far.
Pitofsky’s push to update antitrust policy has echoes today, as the FTC is again opening debate on how it approaches competition enforcement in the tech sector. Consumer groups and lawmakers have raised concerns that a handful of companies, like Amazon, Facebook and Apple, have outsize influence on the economy even though they apparently do not violate antitrust laws.