TRADE ASSOCIATIONS: High Court To Rule On Controls
The dentistry profession is not often at the center of a federal legal debate, but on January 13, 1999, the California Dental Association will face the Federal Trade Commission before the Supreme Court. At issue is "whether the FTC has jurisdiction over nonprofit professional associations." According to syndicated political columnist James Kilpatrick, the FTC believes it has authority to regulate professional associations "to prevent restraint of trade." Since 1990, Kilpatrick writes in the Columbia State, "the FTC has wrung consent decrees from such diverse outfits as the United States Golf Association, the National Association of Social Workers, [and] the Connecticut Chiropractic Association."
'Puffery' Not Allowed
At odds is the CDA's interpretation of its own code of ethics and its rules regarding member dentists' advertising. The 19,000 members of the CDA are prohibited "from engaging in 'false or misleading advertising,'" some of which, according to Kilpatrick, is "advertising that amounts to mere puffery." In 1989, the CDA denied a dentist membership "unless he stopped advertising that his office caters to people who demand 'quality, personal attention and punctuality.'" The FTC, however, views such interpretation "as a restraint of trade," and has "ordered the association not to interfere" with members' advertising. Although Kilpatrick is "mystified to understand how the FTC" could interpret the association's "puffery" rule as unlawful, he contends that "the American public long ago learned to discount cotton candy claims in advertising," and that dentists ought to be able to advertise their services as they see fit (12/14).