Clanton received a B.A. from Andrews University in 1966, followed by a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School in 1969. In June 1969, Clanton became a legislative assistant to Michigan Senator Robert P. Griffin. He gained admission to the bar in Michigan the following year, and served as minority staff counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Commerce from April 1971 to January 1975. After a brief stint as legislative assistant to the assistant minority leader of the U.S. Senate, Clanton was nominated by President Gerald Ford to a seat on the Federal Trade Commission. President Ronald Reagan named Clanton acting FTC chair in 1981, pending selection of a nominee for the position.
- "Announcement of Intention To Nominate David A. Clanton To Be a Commissioner and Intention to Withdraw the Nomination of Thomas Sowell To Be a Commissioner" (July 20, 1976), in Presidential Documents: Gerald R. Ford, 1976, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Volume 12, Issues 27-39, p. 1188.
- List of Commissioners, Chairwomen, and Chairmen of the Federal Trade Commission: 1915-2018 (as of November 2018).
- "David A. Clanton". Martindale. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
- Bernice Rothman Hasin, Consumers, Commissions, and Congress: Law, Theory, and the Federal Trade Commission (1987), p. 194.