Reyes could rely on coalition-building skills if tapped for FTC chair post

29 March 2017 12:32pm

7 February 2017. By Jeff Bliss.

Sean Reyes, the leading candidate to head the US Federal Trade Commission, finds common ground in unlikely places.

As a Mormon teenager of mixed Japanese, Hawaiian, Philippine and Spanish ancestry, he inserted himself into the hip hop scene of southwest Los Angeles, deejaying under the name "Pineapple Crush."

As attorney general of Utah, Reyes has teamed up with Democrats and fellow Republicans on consumer protection, sex-trafficking and antitrust cases.

Reyes will need his coalition-building skills if President Donald Trump taps him to be FTC chairman. The Utah attorney general is an unknown entity to most agency officials, and the antitrust lawyers and consumer and privacy advocates he would deal with in the position.

Debate over how active the FTC should be has frayed the bipartisanship with which the agency usually operates. Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican who is Reyes' biggest rival for the top post, has criticized the Obama administration for overstepping its enforcement authority and called for "regulatory humility".

Commissioner Terrell McSweeny, who will be the FTC's only other member when fellow Democrat Edith Ramirez resigns on Friday, has urged the agency to ratchet up antitrust enforcement.

Reyes and the president come down firmly on the side of less enforcement. Both have railed against the dangers of federal overreach.

But Reyes' friends and observers of Utah politics said he has the skills to disarm potential detractors and form the voting majorities among fellow commissioners that are essential to the FTC's function.

One of his biggest boosters is District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. Reyes, a Mormon opposed to same-sex marriage, struck up a quick friendship with Racine, a Democrat with a very different outlook on social issues.

When Racine became attorney general in 2015, the gregarious Reyes immediately made him feel welcome at National Association of Attorneys General gatherings, Racine said.

"He's one of those guys in a room you're going to find because people are around him," Racine told MLex.

The two attorneys general have worked together on several issues, collaborating on a letter last year that urged the FTC to reopen its antitrust investigation into Google. After a lengthy probe, the agency in 2013 forced Google to make only minor changes to its Internet search practices.

With broad interests ranging from martial arts and Pokémon GO to the combating of child abuse and white-collar crime, Reyes usually has no trouble finding something in common with others, acquaintances said.

"He's just a great connector," said Boyd Matheson, former chief of staff for US Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican. "He has that natural ability to put people together and make it roll."

In 2013, Reyes was appointed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert to succeed Attorney General John Swallow, who had resigned and has since been indicted for public corruption. In 2014, Reyes won an election to fill out the remainder of Swallow's term and was re-elected in November to a full four-year term.

Alan Crooks, a Reyes spokesman, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

DC shakeup

It is unlikely Trump would want the next FTC chairman to prioritize making friends in Washington. The president has vowed to shake up business as usual in the capital; his political appointees and Cabinet nominees include many who are openly critical of the organizations they would be running.

Although not a consistent critic of the FTC, Reyes has been skeptical of some agency decisions.

Beyond the agency's shutdown of the Google probe, he has questioned the FTC's pursuit of the North Carolina Dental case. He was among the 23 state attorneys general who filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court urging it to reverse an appeals court ruling in favor of the FTC and against the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners. The decision would allow "federal courts to second-guess" states' rules governing regulatory boards, according to the brief.

He is broadly worried about Washington trampling states' authority. Reyes was among officials in 15 states who complained last year in a letter to congressional leaders about the Obama administration issuing binding rules that overrode state laws.

"Federal regulatory overreach has long been a concern, but the extent of the problem has in recent years become unprecedented in our Nation's history," he said in a statement accompanying the letter.

He also joined with 46 other attorneys general in asking Congress not to overturn state authority to enforce data breach and data security laws.

Reyes, though, isn't averse to working closely with federal officials. He signed on to the FTC's conditional approval of Dollar Tree's 2015 purchase of fellow retail discounter Family Dollar, which required the divestiture of more than 300 stores.

He also underscored how the Department of Justice's e-books case against Apple, in which Utah was a co-plaintiff, would benefit state residents.

The markets and financial fraud division of the Utah AG's office, created under Reyes, worked with the DOJ and 16 other states on the case against American Express' rules that prevent merchants from steering customers to other payment methods.

Reyes also has shut down alleged Ponzi schemes in his state, charging Dee Allen Randall of Kaysville of bilking 700 investors out of $72 million.

He supported Utah Governor Herbert signing a law creating the country's first white-collar crime registry, a list of people convicted of second-degree felonies for illegal business practices that Reyes' office administers.

Racine, the DC attorney general, said he has no doubt Reyes would find mutual areas of agreement with political adversaries if he gets the FTC post.

Reyes "has actively sought to partner on matters," he said.

Joh Sung-Wook Interview