The commission's law-enforcement activities have to do with the prevention of unfair methods of competition and false advertising (in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 and the Wheeler-Lea Act of 1938); with administration of provisions restricting tying and exclusive dealing contracts, acquisition of capital stock, interlocking directorates, and price discriminations (in accordance with the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 and the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936); and with administration of the Webb-Pomerene Act of 1918, which permits associations to engage in export trade without incurring the penalties of the Sherman Antitrust Act. In 1946 the FTC was given the right to cancel faulty trademarks. The FTC also enforces the provisions of the Truth in Lending Act of 1968 over creditors (e.g., finance companies, retailers, and nonfederal credit unions) not specifically regulated by another government agency. The act was designed to ensure that a potential borrower can obtain meaningful information about the actual cost of consumer credit.
To enforce antitrust legislation, the commission is empowered to issue cease-and-desist orders upon ascertaining to its satisfaction that the laws are being violated. These orders, to be effective, usually must have court sanction, and the commission must, therefore, in various instances prove its case in court. In deciding such cases the courts have interpreted and applied the phrase "unfair methods of competition." Many of the judicial decisions have frustrated the work of the commission in restricting the growth of monopoly and also, to some degree, the intent of the antitrust laws. Yet the commission has done much toward ridding the business world of vicious competitive practices.
The commission may undertake special investigations at the order of Congress, the President, or upon its own initiative. In its investigatory work, the commission was delegated the power to require information from any corporation in interstate commerce. Many companies, however, gave only partial access to their records, and others gave none. A decision by the Supreme Court declared that access to records of private business, except where substantial proof is submitted as to a specific breach of the law, is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Despite the fact that the commission's investigatory power was thus greatly limited, it has made and published a notable series of investigations. After the checks rendered by the courts, the commission tended more and more to carry out its recommendations through trade-practice conferences, at which representatives of an industry might voluntarily adopt regulations to control competition in that industry.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.