June 27, 2018
FOIA Request Reveals That FTC’s Consumer Protection Head Has Many Conflicts of Interest
Andrew Smith Has History of Defending Corporate Wrongdoers, Not Protecting Consumers
In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Public Citizen, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released the public financial disclosure report, also known as Form 278, for the newly installed head of the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Andrew Smith’s form confirmed that the former corporate lawyer represented companies that are being investigated by the bureau, including Equifax, the credit monitoring company whose data breach compromised the privacy of more than 145 million people. In addition, the form revealed that Smith represented Facebook and Uber, companies that also are under FTC investigation.
Smith’s public financial disclosure form reported that that he provided legal services to companies such as Amazon and the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) for more than $5,000. Last October, Smith testified on behalf of the CDIA during a U.S. Senate hearing on data breaches. CDIA, a lobbying group that represents credit services and fraud protection companies, spends more than $1 million a year on lobbying the federal government.
Public Citizen is waiting for the FTC to provide all relevant documents related to Smith’s ethical conflicts, including documentation detailing what steps that agency will take to prevent Smith from participating in matters where one of the parties is a former client.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection plays a vital role in protecting consumers from unfair, fraudulent and deceptive business practices. In 2015, Smith helped defend a payday lender who eventually was ordered to pay $1.3 billion for deceiving consumers and illegally charging inflated and undisclosed fees.
“The bureau that Andrew Smith leads plays a pivotal role in protecting consumers. Yet he will be placed on the sidelines for many of its most consequential investigations and decisions because he has represented so many of these companies,” said Remington A. Gregg, Public Citizen’s counsel for civil justice and consumer rights, who filed the FOIA request seeking information about Smith’s conflicts of interests. “Consumers deserve a consumer protection advocate in this position, not a hired gun for corporate sharks. Even in instances where Smith isn’t recused from participating in decisions that pertain to former clients, his many perceived conflicts of interest do not instill confidence that he is first and foremost looking out for consumers’ best interests.”