Tea Party senator presses for 'vigorous' oversight of Google

Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wants a congressional hearing to examine whether Google has run afoul of antitrust laws. 

In a letter to Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), the chairman of a Senate antitrust panel, Lee said that Google's dominance of the Internet search arena prompts the "need for vigorous antitrust oversight and enforcement in this area."

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"The powerful position Google occupies in the general search arena creates myriad opportunities for anticompetitive behavior," Lee, the ranking member of the panel, wrote in a letter dated Thursday.

Lee's plea came after Kohl said this week that he plans to scrutinize Google's behavior in the online search market to ensure it treats other companies fairly on its platform.

Google has emerged as the butt of criticism for several Republican lawmakers, who have suggested the company benefits from close ties with the White House. Google CEO Eric Schmidt endorsed President Obama on the campaign trail in 2008 and has served as an outside adviser to the president.

In his letter, Lee said he wants the panel to focus on Google's acquisition of personal data through its myriad online products to ensure it is obeying privacy rules. He also questioned the company's push to make inroads in the travel search market.

"Enforcement of the antitrust laws is especially important for sectors in which the United States has been a leader, such as the e-commerce and online advertising industries," Lee wrote. 

Lee is a member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus. He successfully primaried then-GOP Sen. Bob Bennett in the 2010 midterms with the support of Tea Party groups, which want a more limited government. 

"Antitrust enforcement is far preferable to the creation of inefficient government regulation and bureaucracy that could hamper innovation in these crucial industries," the senator wrote.

Lee noted in the letter that his state is home to a number of burgeoning tech companies and as a result, it has a "significant interest in preserving open competition in this important area of our economy."

Two Utah-based online companies that have had run-ins with Google, 1800 Contacts and Overstock.com, contibuted to Lee's campaign, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“There is absolutely zero connection” between the campaign contributions and the senator's actions, a spokesman for Lee told The Journal.

-- This post was updated at 4:20 p.m.