An industry lawyer who's represented Facebook and payday lenders will lead key consumer protection unit, despite Democratic outrage

Getty ImagesFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team during his congressional testimony in April.
  • A lawyer who has represented dozens of companies being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission has been confirmed to lead the commission’s consumer protection unit.
  • Andrew Smith has an unusual resume for the job, recently representing Facebook, Equifax, and Uber in the FTC’s investigations into the companies’ data breaches.
  • Democrats voiced strong opposition to Smith, calling his selection “corruption, plain and simple.”

A lawyer who has represented dozens of companies currently being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission has been confirmed to lead the commission’s consumer protection unit, despite strong opposition from Democrats.

Andrew Smith, a partner at the Washington law firm Covington & Burling, worked at the FTC in the 2000s, but has spent most of the last decade as an industry lawyer representing companies, including Facebook, Equifax, and Uber, that are being investigated by the FTC – an unusual resume for someone chosen to protect consumers.

Notably, in 2012, Smith helped represent AMG Services, a payday lender fined $US1.3 billion in 2016 for deceiving its consumers, many of whom are poor. The company’s founder, racecar driver Scott Tucker, was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison.

Smith, confirmed by the commission’s three Republican members – and opposed by its two Democratic members – on Wednesday also appeared before Congress last fall to argue for reducing and limiting enforcement of regulations on the credit reporting industry.

Smith will reportedly recuse himself from all of the FTC’s matters involving former clients, including Facebook and Equifax, which are the subjects of the commission’s two most high-profile investigations. Critics say Smith’s recusals from key cases will make it impossible for him to do his job effectively.

Democratic lawmakers voiced their outrage over Smith’s selection and have demanded more information, including about which cases Smith will recuse himself from.

In a letter to the FTC chairman, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal and Brian Schatz argued that Smith both lacks the experience necessary for the job and will be hamstrung by his recusals.

“The FTC can choose among any number of qualified individuals to lead its Bureau of Consumer Protection, and it is impossible to believe that the best candidate is someone with a long record of representing companies that have been accused of hurting consumers,” they wrote.

In another statement, Warren called Smith’s selection “corruption, plain and simple.”

“I can imagine worse choices, but not many,” Blumenthal, the ranking member of the Senate’s consumer protection subcommittee, told The New York Times.

But Smith says he’s unconcerned about his recusals and says he’ll have plenty of work at the agency.

“It’s a big world and the FTC has very broad jurisdiction,” he told The Times.

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