Independent business groups push Biden against FTC, DOJ appointees with ties to Big Tech

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A coalition of independent business associations is urging President Biden against appointing individuals with ties to the four biggest tech companies to top antitrust enforcement roles at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The associations, representing more than 60,000 independent businesses, sent a letter to the president on Wednesday calling for him to appoint individuals that will “prioritize reinvigorating anti-monopoly policy.” 

“We urge your administration to appoint personnel who are willing to address the concentrated market structures and abuses that are impeding independent businesses and threatening their survival,” they wrote, according to a copy of the letter exclusively shared with The Hill. 

“We believe that it is imperative that you avoid appointing individuals who have served as lawyers, lobbyists, or consultants for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google to key antitrust enforcement positions. Instead, we encourage you to appoint experienced litigators or public servants who recognized the dangers of, rather than helped to exacerbate, these corporations’ market power,” the letter continued. 

The letter is the latest push from groups warning Biden against appointing individuals with ties to the tech giants to key antitrust roles. 

Last month, a coalition of 40 anti-monopoly groups wrote a letter to Biden’s transition team similarly urging against appointing antitrust enforcers with ties to dominant corporations on the heels of reports that Renata Hesse is a front-runner for the top antitrust job at the DOJ. 

Hesse was a former agency official during the Obama administration and has a long history advising tech companies. She advised Amazon and Google, and helped shepherd the online retail giant through Amazon’s $13 billion acquisition of Whole Foods. 

Biden also has two FTC spots to fill, as former Chairman Joseph Simons (R) stepped down at the end of last month and Biden tapped Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an advocacy organization for sustainable local development that helped organize the Thursday letter, said whoever Biden picks to fill spots at the FTC and DOJ will be vital in shaping Biden’s agenda on anti-trust issues. 

If the president picks nominees with ties to the top tech firms, the agencies are likely to continue to use what Mitchell called a failed “conventional way of thinking that ignores monopoly power.” 

“We’ve had this revolving door between dominant firms and the enforcement agencies and that’s a problem,” Mitchell told The Hill. “We really need to have enforcers who are committed to the public good and not folks who are just ideologically embedded with these big companies and looking out for their next job opportunity.” 

“I’m concerned about anybody who’s been working for the big tech companies. They really are at the center of so much of the problem,” she added. 

In the letter sent to Biden Thursday, the associations don’t identify any individuals that they would like the president to appoint by name, but Lina Khan has been floated as a favored choice for the FTC among progressive anti-monopoly groups. Khan was a key staffer on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee’s recent antitrust investigation, and is now an associate professor at Columbia Law School. 

As Biden seeks to fill the spots aimed at enforcing antitrust rules, the top tech companies are facing a range of antitrust accusations and legal challenges. 

The DOJ sued Google last year for allegedly illegally maintaining its monopoly on search and online advertising, and the FTC sued Facebook for making anticompetitive acquisitions. 

Both companies were also targeted, along with Amazon and Apple, in the report released last summer by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. The report detailed market abuses among the four companies, and Congress is expected to take some further action on antitrust issues this year.

Tags Amazon antitrust Apple Big tech DOJ Facebook FTC Google Joe Biden monopolies Rohit Chopra Technology

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