As I outlined to you on Tuesday, March 16, I support vigorous antitrust enforcement, but I have serious reservations concerning the parens patriae concept set forth in the present version of H.R. 8532.
I question whether federal legislation is desirable which authorizes a state attorney general to sue on behalf of the state's citizens to recover treble damages that result from violations of the federal antitrust laws. The states have the ability to amend their own antitrust laws to authorize patens patriae suits in their own courts. If a state legislature, acting for its own citizens, is not convinced the parens patriae concept is sound policy, the Administration questions whether the Congress should bypass the state legislatures and provide state attorneys general with access to the federal courts to enforce it.
In addition to my reservations about the principle of parens patriae, I am concerned about some specific provisions of the legislation developed by the House Judiciary Committee.
The present bill is too broad in its reach and should be narrowed to price fixing violations. This would concentrate the enforcement on the most important antitrust violations.
In addition, the Administration is opposed to mandatory treble damage awards in parens patriae suits, preferring instead a provision which would limit awards only to the damages that actually result from the violation. The view that federal penalties were inadequate, which has been used to justify mandatory treble damages in the past, is no longer justifiable given the substantial increases in these penalties in recent years.
The Administration opposes extension of the statistical aggregation of damages, beyond parens patriae legislation, to private class action suits because this is outside of the appropriate reach of this legislation.
Finally, the Administration prefers discretionary rather than mandatory award of attorney's fees, leaving such awards to the discretion of the courts.
During the last two years, the Administration has sought to improve federal enforcement efforts in the antitrust area and the resources devoted to antitrust enforcement have increased substantially. In December 1974, I signed the Antitrust Penalties and Procedures Act which increased maximum penalties from $50,000 to $1 million for corporations and $100,000 for individuals. As I indicated above, I support vigorous antitrust enforcement, but I do not believe H.R. 8532 is a responsible way to enforce federal antitrust laws.
GERALD R. FORD
[The Honorable John J. Rhodes, Minority Leader, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515]