Christine Varney is leaving the Antitrust Division.
And going to Cravath Swaine & Moore in New York.
“There is no doubt that her tireless work helped protect consumers and businesses from anti-competitive conduct and preserved competition in America’s economy,” Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday.
But others were less favorable about Varney’s tenure at the Antitrust Division.
Albert Foer at the American Antitrust Institute gave Varney an “I” for incomplete.
“Christine Varney began the process of turning around a tanker ship that was going down,” Foer told me. “She pointed it in a better direction but with judicial winds blowing strong the wrong way, her captaincy failed to accomplish all we had hoped for it.”
“The rhetoric and appointments were generally strong, but an evaluation will have to wait until we know whether her conduct-oriented, rather than structure-oriented, remedies in major merger cases will preserve competition and we will also have to see what cases are in the works and have not yet been revealed,” Foer said. “The Bush Administration probably would have let these mergers go through without conditions. But the problem is we aren’t sure her conditions will make a difference.”
“She gets credit for revoking the Bush Administration’s weak document on monopoly, but has done little to re-establish anti-monopoly enforcement. She brought several cases that have potential to be important, but we don’t know how they will turn out. She oversaw a clarification and mild modernization of the horizontal merger guidelines, but it is too soon to know whether they will have a significant impact.”
“She brought cartel cases, but so did predecessors. She played a high profile role in the highly publicized inter-departmental agriculture workshops, but so far very little has emerged from the effort. She apparently played no role during the banking crisis. Her efforts in the international arena were generally positive, though there was a tense period with the EU over a merger and a tense period with the FTC that took two to tango but which did not help the public image of the overall antitrust effort. All in all, the report card says ‘incomplete.'”
Fred Stokes of the Organization for Competitive Markets was less forgiving than Foer.
Last year, Varney and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack hosted a series of workshops around the country to discuss competition and regulatory issues faced by the agriculture industry.
More than 4,000 attendees attended workshops in Ankeny, Iowa, Normal, Alabama, Madison, Wisconsin, Fort Collins, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
Stokes believes that Varney and Vilsack were “totally sincere” when they promised action against the big agribusiness corporations.
And he says he believes the reason they were unable to take action ? to fulfill their promises ? was because they were shut down by the Obama political machine.
“The people they promised to go after and hang high are being shaken down to provide the billion dollar Obama campaign fund,” Stokes said. “Varney was shut down by Obama’s political machine.”
“Varney was totally sincere when she came into office,” Stokes said. “But she had the rug pulled out from under her.”
“It is most likely that Christine Varney is leaving in total frustration with being hampered from doing from what she sincerely intended to do ? curbing the market abuses that are putting independent family farmers and ranchers out of business and savaging rural America,” Stokes said.
“When she came into office, she was on fire,” Stokes said. “She made pronouncements against Dean Foods, against Monsanto, against the big meat packers. But she did nothing about it.”
“At the poultry workshop in Alabama last year in June 2010, they had probably 50 contract poultry producers who lined up. They told about all the things that were being done to them. And many of them said at the end that it is likely that their contracts will be terminated.”
“Christine Varney stood up and said ? here is my card with my direct number, if they do anything like that, you call me. She raised so many eyebrows. At workshop after workshop, she stood up for the farmers.”
“But in response, they have done nothing, absolutely nothing. They had five workshops across the country. She stood up and made fiery speeches at every one of them. And yet nothing has happened.”
How does Stokes know that she wanted to do the right thing but was shut down by the political apparatus?
“I am 77 years old,” Stokes said. “I have acquired ability to judge people pretty good. She and Secretary Vilsack were absolutely sincere. Some of the big targets that they were after are now being shaken down for a billion dollar campaign fund.”
“I’m from Mississippi,” Stokes said. “I endured ridicule and scorn for my unabashedly pro Obama administration stance and politics down here. These were going to be finally the folks who were going to turn things around and we were going to reverse the destruction of rural America. It hasn’t happened.”
“I was told by people they were definitely going after Monsanto,” Stokes said. “And nothing has happened. She wanted to go after Monsanto and she was stopped. That’s my feeling. It’s been two years. They have had plenty of time to haul them into court.”
“They raised our hopes and nothing happened,” Stokes said. “I feel sucker punched.”
Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.