* FTC probing Office Depot/OfficeMax deal, Tesoro refinery
* Ramirez, Obama knew each other at Harvard Law School
* No word on who will fill vacant commissioner position
By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 President Barack Obama is to
name Edith Ramirez, once his colleague at the Harvard Law
Review, as chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC
said on Thursday.
Ramirez, 44, a Democrat who worked for Obama during the 2008
presidential race, was a lawyer specializing in business
litigation and intellectual property in Los Angeles. She has
been a commissioner since 2010.
Ramirez is to begin work as chairman on Monday, the FTC said
in a statement.
She takes the FTC's helm as it considers several
high-profile mergers, including the proposed Office Depot Inc
deal to buy rival office supplier OfficeMax,
Tesoro Corp's purchase of a BP refinery in
gas-price sensitive California, and Tempur-Pedic's
proposed purchase of mattress rival Sealy Corp.
The agency is also working on online privacy issues, which
often pit companies against consumers.
The appointment of Ramirez, a Latina from Southern
California who is fluent in Spanish, could calm some criticism
of Obama, who was attacked after his first three cabinet
appointments in his second term went to white men - John Kerry
to head the State Department, Chuck Hagel for Defense and Jack
Lew for Treasury.
The White House has said Obama intends to maintain diversity
in his Cabinet in the second term.
The choice of Ramirez, whose positions have shown her to be
a moderate, over fellow Democratic commissioner Julie Brill also
indicates the White House wants a centrist FTC, antitrust
"We see this as a positive appointment. We have heard and
experienced her taking a very measured approach to enforcement,"
said David Wales, a former antitrust official with the FTC and
the U.S. Justice Department, and now at the law firm Jones Day.
Ramirez, who graduated from Harvard Law School a year after
the president, was the editor of the Law Review there when Obama
was its first black president, according to the school.
Ramirez went on to be Obama's director of Latino Outreach in
California in 2008.
As a commissioner, Ramirez does not require Senate
Ramirez will replace Jon Leibowitz as the head of the
agency, which works to protect consumers from unfair business
practices and maintain competition in the marketplace.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, the new chair of the Senate Judiciary
Committee's antitrust subcommittee, praised Ramirez as a "highly
respected FTC commissioner."
"I look forward to working with Commissioner Ramirez to
protect consumers and promote competition, and I am confident
she will be a great partner in these efforts," she said in a
Leibowitz's departure leaves two Democrats and two
Republicans, Maureen Olhausen and Joshua Wright, on the
commission, which at full strength has five members. In the case
of a 2-2 vote, no action is taken.
There has been little word so far on a nominee for the open
spot. A potential candidate appears to be Leslie Overton, a
former partner at the Jones Day law firm who is now at the
Justice Department's Antitrust Division, said an antitrust
expert who asked not to be named.
Under Leibowitz, the agency had been working on intellectual
property issues, including the problem of companies with patent
portfolios filing frivolous infringement lawsuits.
The commission handled high-profile antitrust cases against
Intel Corp and Google Inc, and advocated "Do
Not Track," a campaign to allow consumers to opt out of being
"Under her leadership, we expect the FTC to blaze new ground
on privacy - especially involving mobile devices, digital data
brokers and Do Not Track," Jeff Chester of the Center for
Digital Democracy said of Ramirez.
In her law career, Ramirez represented corporations
including Mattel Inc and Northrop Grumman Corp.
She also served between 2005 and 2010 on the board of
commissioners for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power,
the largest U.S. municipal utility.