One-on-One: Federal Trade Commission Chair Jon Leibowitz

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," April 21, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Are the politicians here in Washington slicking all of us, pulling a big political stunt just to look like they are doing something? We report, you decide. And most people do agree leading up to the economic crisis, the government dropped the ball and did not protect you or our economy. One of the ideas to prevent another meltdown pushed by many Democrats is to create a consumer protection agency. But do we already have the existing structure to fix the problem?

Griff Jenkins talked to one member of the administration, Jon Leibowitz, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission.


GRIFF JENKINS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The FTC is America's watchdog for consumer protection. Your motto is "Protecting American Consumers." You write in your annual report coming out at the end of the week that this past year has provided unprecedented challenges to Americans and to the agency. What powers -- as we, as Congress and the president figures out how to protect us in the future, what powers don't you have? What do you need to continue to be America's watchdog?

JON LEIBOWITZ, FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION CHAIR: Well, that's a great question. I mean, obviously, with the economic downturn, we have had real challenges because scam artists, they go where the money is. And so a lot of the money has been in things called foreclosure rescue scams, where companies will say, Give me $5,000, and I'll prevent, you know, the foreclosure on your home. Then they take the money and they don't do anything. And so we've brought dozens of cases there.

From our perspective -- and certainly from my perspective -- one thing that we'd like to see is civil penalty authority, so we can fine malefactors. Right now, all we can do is take away their profits, which is good when we go after them, and maybe get restitution for consumers. But if we had a deterrent, a bigger stick to fine malefactors, that would be helpful.

JENKINS: Do you support the president's proposal to create a new agency?

LEIBOWITZ: Well, I would say this. Every commissioner here -- and we're a bipartisan agency, three Democrats, two Republicans -- supports the notion of elevating consumer protection. And from my perspective, I am supportive of this agency in part because we have no jurisdiction over banks and bank-related financial instruments. And so if you look at where some of the failures were -- and there were many and there's enough blame to go around -- clearly, some of them were in consumer protection of bank- related financial instruments. And so I like the notion of sort of consolidating the balkanized bank regulators into one consumer protection entity.

JENKINS: Why? Why not just take the SEC, the FTC, the Fed, Treasury, strengthen them, give all you guys the powers you need, rather than create more bureaucracy? As we've seen in the polls, the American people are worried about the growth of government.

LEIBOWITZ: Well, you know, there are different ways to go about achieving, I think, a shared goal, and really a shared goal for everybody. From my perspective, you know, we're a tiny agency. Now, when we cover the entire economy -- we do everything from running the do-not-call list, which has given, you know, some peace and quiet to the American dinner hour, to going after anti-competitive mergers. And so we don't have -- I mean, we would -- we will do anything that Congress tells us to do, of course. We're an independent agency and a creature of Congress. But I really think that if you take the people who have the expertise in bank examination and in safety and soundness, but then you add in that area a kind of consumer protection watchdog, that might be the best way to go.

JENKINS: Can you fire employees that are -- say, if they're supposed to be over looking -- you know, oversight of some financial product, marketing of a financial product in a certain division or a manager isn't doing his or her job, can you fire them?

LEIBOWITZ: Well, we are fortunate enough here not to have had that problem. We spend a lot of time looking at advertising in the non-bank -- the non-bank financial area. But I believe we have the authority, if we needed to, to put people in who are going to do the job. That's what we're here for.


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