Acting Chairman Ohlhausen
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THE LATEST: American Guild of Organists Reaches Settlement Agreement with the FTC over Challenged Professional Association Rules

The two current commissioners of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved a final order and consent agreement with the American Guild of Organists (AGO) after a public comment period of two months. The FTC alleged that the AGO violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by agreeing to restrain competition among its organist and choral conductor members. Under the terms of the settlement, the AGO agreed to make certain changes to its rules and policies.

WHAT HAPPENED

  • The AGO represents approximately 15,000 member organists and choral directors in 300 chapters in the United States and abroad.
  • The FTC initiated an inquiry into the AGO’s practices in late 2015 after receiving complaints from consumers and organists regarding guild rules.
  • Specifically, the AGO’s rules required a customer seeking to hire a musician who was not dedicated as the “incumbent musician” in a particular area to pay both the “incumbent musician” in the area as well as the hired musician. The AGO’s Code of Ethics stated that members should “protect themselves” through contracts that secured fees even when not performing.
  • Also, the AGO published compensation schedules and formulas, instructing its membership to use the formulas to determine pricing in their region.
  • Finally, the AGO’s rules prohibited a member from soliciting employment from an organization already employing an “incumbent musician.”
  • The FTC’s complaint alleged that these actions restrained competition by encouraging a fixed pricing schedule between and among the AGO’s membership, and by preventing members from freely seeking or accepting employment. It also alleged that the AGO’s rules and guidelines likely raised prices for consumers seeking to employ organists for special occasions, as well as the organizations that employed organists.
  • The settlement requires the AGO to change its rules and Code of Ethics, and mandates that each chapter of the AGO certify compliance in order to remain in the organization. In particular, the AGO no longer can publicize or endorse any standardized or suggested prices or interfere with any member’s ability to seek work as an organist or choral conductor.

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THE LATEST: Rohit Chopra, Progressive Student Loan Watchdog, Recommended for FTC Commissioner

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is composed of five Commissioners each with terms of seven years. The Commissioners are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. At any given time, no more than three Commissioners may be members of the same political party. Currently, Acting Chairman Ohlhausen (R) and Commissioner McSweeny (D) are the only FTC Commissioners. President Trump, therefore, can nominate two republican Commissioners and a democrat or independent commissioner. On May 9, United States Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) formally recommended to President Donald Trump that Rohit Chopra fill the empty Democratic FTC Commissioner position. It is not clear how President Trump will proceed following the recommendation. Prior presidents have typically relied on recommendations from opposition leaders when deciding on a nominee for a minority commissioner.

WHO IS ROHIT CHOPRA?
  • Chopra is a Harvard University (BA) and Wharton School (MBA) graduate who has focused his career on consumer protection; specifically, advocacy for student loan forgiveness and better student loan servicing, and criticism of for-profit universities.
  • Chopra was one of the initial employees of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), founded in July 2010 and proposed in 2007 by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in response to the Great Recession. There, Chopra served as Assistant Director and Student Loan Ombudsman, where he worked to improve student loan servicing and sued ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges Inc. for consumer fraud.
  • In 2015, Chopra became a Senior Fellow at progressive think tank the Center for American Progress.
  • He then joined the Obama Administration as Special Advisor to the Secretary of Education, after having been critical of the Obama Administration’s work on student loan issues while at the CFPB. In particular, he encouraged the Secretary of Education to combat data showing that student loan debt doubled under the Obama Administration and the amount of student loans in default continued to increase.
  • Currently, Chopra serves as a Senior Fellow of the Consumer Federation of America, a non-profit consumer protection organization founded in 1968.
WHAT THIS MEANS?
  • If appointed, Chopra would be a non-lawyer FTC Commissioner without significant experience in antitrust issues, having worked solely in the consumer protection arena.
  • Chopra would replace former FTC Chairman Edith Ramirez, another progressive, who resigned her position effective February 10, 2017.



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