The Antitrust Agenda: FTC Morale Issues in a Historical Context; In Blows to Big Tech, Sally Hubbard Takes Position at DOJ, Raimondo Supports Antitrust Legislation 

Published on May 02, 2022

The real history of morale at the FTC: Jim Miller on combative staff early in his tenure. The Office of Personnel Management last week released the results of its 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), which collects feedback from agency employees to detail their views on agency leadership, policies, and practice.  

The FTC has historically scored well in those surveys. But not so much in 2021—as Chair Lina Khan wrote in a memo seen by The Capitol Forum, the agency’s “overall trends were not where we want them to be. Our numbers dropped in several key areas, particularly in those related to senior leadership and overall satisfaction with the organization as a place to work.”  

But that a new FTC chair with a bold agenda would face some staff pushback is far from unprecedented: a recent Capitol Forum piece that included an interview with former FTC Chairman Jim Miller–who President Ronald Reagan appointed to lead the agency from 1981 to 1985–shows close parallels to the challenges facing Khan now: 

“Miller and Khan share one thing in common—they both entered the commission with wide-ranging plans that, at least in their early months, drew both internal and external pushback. 

“Miller said he came in with a very ambitious agenda, and that he ‘had a great deal of controversy at the beginning of the term.’ That also involved working with some ‘holdover’ staff, ‘some good, some very antagonistic,’ he said. [emphasis added] 

“That dynamic, however, generally dissipated as his tenure continued, Miller said. 

“By 1985, there was much more collegiality at the agency, and ‘commissioners were all working well together and respecting each other,’ Miller added.” 

A key difference between Khan and Miller: doing more vs. doing less. At some level, it does seem that changing an agency to do less is a much easier task than pushing an agency to do more, so Khan’s challenge is in many ways much more difficult than Miller’s.   

Miller wanted the FTC to bring fewer cases and to be less antagonistic towards big business. In some ways, agency staff might have found that demoralizing, but they also would find it to be a lot less work.   

Khan’s challenge is more significant—she has to push an entire agency to analyze markets through a different lens with different priorities, and to inspire staff to do more work and take on extremely powerful and well-funded corporations, many of which hire their former peers and bosses.   

Beyond the history: what to make of the FTC’s morale numbers. Since we can disregard bad faith takes that Khan is unique in facing staff resistance when attempting to put in place a bold agenda, let’s take a closer look at the real problems at the FTC and how long they can be expected to persist.   

Management in the era of Covid is a challenge, considering that face-to-face and 1-on-1 meetings are rarer and much less impactful over Zoom. Khan and her leadership team also don’t have significant managerial experience, so growing pains were a near certainty. So while there has been success in pushing ahead with high-level policy decisions at the FTC and crafting a bold agenda—which is where Khan has focused her efforts from a personnel standpoint—she has had some growing pains down the ranks at the FTC, and that can likely be attributed to the need for better management.  

Khan addressed the managerial challenge in her post-FEVS results memo to staff, and said she would “be working to strengthen communication and relationships more broadly within the agency and making sure that our goals and priorities are clear and administrable.” 

In a statement to The Capitol Forum, an FTC spokesperson said, “Chair Khan shares the passion of the FTC staff for the work they do protecting Americans from unlawful business practices, and she has enormous respect for their diligence and expertise. Last year, the period over which the FEV data was collected, was a period of considerable change at the FTC, which is always difficult. Chair Khan is committed to making sure that the FTC continues to be a great place to work and looks forward to building on the agency’s record of accomplishments.” 

All that said, it’s clear that people who don’t agree with Khan’s agenda also are much more likely to speak out, and the FEVS survey this year had a lower than typical participation rate, allowing for the Khan’s detractors within the agency to have an outsized impact on its results. 

A Democratic majority is likely to allow for a reset and for clearer direction for staff. One important complicating factor in the FEVS report—which collected responses between November 1 to December 3, 2021—is that the FTC has for months lacked a Democratic majority, which has in some ways created additional confusion at the staff level.   

Because the commission has since early October been split between two Democrats and two Republicans, Republican commissioners have had a greater ability to create doubt among staff as to whether the votes are there for the aggressive posture advocated by the chair.   

Once a majority is in place—and Alvaro Bedoya is expected to win Senate confirmation as the commission’s third Democrat in the near-term—that doubt will be erased except in instances where a Democrat is recused, allowing for clearer direction from the top down. That’s not to say staff won’t respect the concerns and interests of minority commissioners. But it is to say that such inquiries will be taken within the context of staff knowing that Democrats fully control the commission’s agenda and decision-making. 

Sally Hubbard takes position as senior counsel to AAG Kanter, continuing Kanter themes of more antitrust litigation and making the language of antitrust more accessible. As if Jonathan Kanter hasn’t been sufficiently direct about his interest in an aggressive litigation posture at DOJ’s antitrust division, he appointed Sally Hubbard last week as a senior counsel. Hubbard previously worked at the New York Attorney General’s Office as a deputy in the antitrust division, as the director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, and also led The Capitol Forum’s monopolization coverage.  

If there’s one thing to know about Hubbard, the author of the book Monopolies Suck, it’s that she believes the antitrust agencies should bring more cases and get over an institutional fear of losing. Antitrust Agenda readers should revisit a transcript of our December 2020 conference call with Hubbard, in which she said, “I do think we need reforms to the antitrust laws, but it’s also a matter of individual leaders and the enforcement agencies and their interpretation of what the laws are capable of. I think the FTC has tremendous power to go after anti-competitive conduct.” 

Hubbard also continues Kanter’s theme of talking about antitrust in a language that’s accessible to the broader public. From the same interview, here is Hubbard talking about her interest in bringing her antitrust expertise to the mainstream: “The reason why I felt compelled to write this particular book was I felt like the average person just wasn’t understanding what monopoly meant to them and their daily life. It’s like people had a general sense that they don’t like monopoly power, but they were having a harder time understanding why it made their life harder. And so I wanted to make clear that monopoly power, that’s pervasive across our entire economy, is actually screwing us all over every day.” 

Big Tech, establishment fought and lost effort to keep Open Markets alumna out of DOJ. The Open Markets Institute is used to being a target for Big Tech, as the group in 2017 was unceremoniously expelled from New America over its tough take on an EU enforcement order against Google. And Big Tech’s fight against Open Markets continues—according to sources familiar with the matter, establishment antitrust lawyers and lobbyists who represent Big Tech fought hard to scuttle Kanter’s appointment of Hubbard at DOJ.   

According to different sources, the fight was viewed at least in part as symbolic—to keep an outspoken antimonopoly advocate and Open Markets alumna out of yet another position of power (Khan is also an Open Markets alumna). It was clear that the establishment had already lost their bigger fights with the White House on antitrust personnel after Khan and Kanter were named to lead the FTC and DOJ antitrust division, but that didn’t stop Big Tech advocates from trying to slow and derail the remaining key positions at the agencies.   

To some extent Big Tech was successful in slowing things down, as we’re just now seeing Kanter’s front office picks take their place at DOJ, and the FTC is still waiting for a Democratic majority (although that has arguably been slowed more by Covid than Big Tech lobbying). In many respects, it seemed a losing battle from the start—why would the White House and DOJ leadership choose Kanter to head the antitrust division but not stand behind his front office picks? Nevertheless, Big Tech fought hard to keep Hubbard out of DOJ, and they lost the fight.  

In yet another blow to big tech, Raimondo supports Klobuchar bill targeting tech platforms.  Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo backed a bill to bar tech platform discrimination when queried by sponsor Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). “I applaud your efforts … and clearly agree that we need to improve competition, which increases innovation,”  Raimondo said at an April 27 Commerce Committee hearing. “The DOJ released a views letter on behalf of the administration in support of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, and the [Commerce] Department and I certainly support that and concur with the aim of the legislation and the views” in that letter.  

Raimondo has been a vocal supporter of Big Tech in her capacity as a policymaker on trade issues, and her support for antitrust legislation is a major boost to the prospects of Congressional legislation and (yet another) loss on shaping Biden administration policy positions. 

FTC calendars. The Capitol Forum received no calendars this past week. 

Personnel News 

Khan names Dasgupta FTC general Counsel. FTC Chair Lina Khan announced Anisha Dasgupta as general counsel and Elizabeth Wilkins as director of the Office of Policy Planning. Dasgupta had been deputy solicitor general in the Office of the New York State Attorney General. Wilkins has been director since February and before that was White House chief of staff senior advisor. 

FTC seeks new attorney advisor for Office of ALJs. The FTC is looking to hire an attorney advisor (GS-15) to work in the Office of Administrative Law Judges. 

FTC attorney joins Adobe as antirust counsel. Eric Cochran is now an antitrust counsel at Adobe, according to his LinkedIn page, which noted he had been an attorney in the FTC Bureau of Competition’s Technology Enforcement Division. 

Lyft machine-learning head named DOD chief digital and AI officer. The Department of Defense tapped Craig Martell, Lyft’s head of machine learning, as chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, charged with “accelerating the adoption of data, analytics, digital solutions, and AI functions to generate decision advantage from the boardroom to the battlefield.” 

Top Events 

Monday, May 2 at 2:30 p.m. EDT.  Arizona State University law college hybrid panel (RSVP) at the ASU Barrett and O’Connor Washington Center in Washington, D.C., “How to Address the Tech Industry – Antitrust, Regulation or Both?” Panelists: ex-Attorney General William Barr, DOJ antitrust division Principal Deputy Assistant AG Doha Mekki and ex-DOJ deputy AAG Joe Sims. 

Wednesday, May 4 at 10 a.m. EDT. Senate Judiciary hearing, “Excessive Swipe Fees and Barriers to Competition in the Credit Card and Debit Card Systems.” 

Wednesday, May 4 at 2 p.m. EDT. Senate Judiciary hearing, “Platform Transparency: Understanding the Impact of Social Media.” 

Thursday, May 5 at 10 a.m. EDT. Senate Commerce hearing on “fairness and transparency”  in prescription drug market, looking at pharmacy benefit managers and FTC authority. 

All Upcoming Events 

Note: you can now visit our Antitrust Calendar app at THIS LINK or via The Capitol Forum platform. 

Pending. Senate floor consideration of FTC commissioner nominee Alvaro Bedoya. 

Monday, May 2 at noon EDT. American Bar Association (ABA) webinar, “Price Gouging, Global Markets, and Uncertainty.” 

Monday, May 2 at 2:30 p.m. EDT.  Arizona State University law college hybrid panel (RSVP) at the ASU Barrett and O’Connor Washington Center in Washington, D.C., “How to Address the Tech Industry – Antitrust, Regulation or Both?” Panelists: ex-Attorney General William Barr, DOJ antitrust division Principal Deputy Assistant AG Doha Mekki and ex-DOJ deputy AAG Joe Sims. 

Tuesday, May 3 at 2 p.m. EDT.  ABA  webinar, “Play Ball.” Panel of experts discuss Major League Baseball antitrust exemption. 

Wednesday, May 4 at 10 a.m. EDT. Senate Judiciary hearing, “Excessive Swipe Fees and Barriers to Competition in the Credit Card and Debit Card Systems.” 

Wednesday, May 4 at 10:30 a.m. EDT.  New America Open Technology Institute webinar, “Charting the Future of Big Tech Accountability.”   

Wednesday, May 4 at 2 p.m. EDT. Senate Judiciary hearing, “Platform Transparency: Understanding the Impact of Social Media.” 

Thursday, May 5 at 9 a.m. EDT.  Senate Judiciary business meeting, with vote possible on the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels  (NOPEC) Act (S. 977). 

Thursday, May 5 at 10 a.m. EDT. Senate Commerce hearing on “fairness and transparency”  in prescription drug market, looking at pharmacy benefit managers and FTC authority. 

Thursday, May 5 at 1 p.m. EDT. Protocol webinar, “Tech Regulation Beyond Big Tech.” Speakers discuss “the biggest regulatory priorities of the not-quite-biggest tech companies.”  

Friday, May 6 at 9 a.m. EDT. Free State Foundation annual policy in-person conference in Washington, D.C. Speakers include FTC Commissioners Christine Wilson and Noah Phillips, FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington, and several former FTC and FCC chairs/commissioners, and the heads of the wireless, cable and telecom trade groups. 

Friday, May 6 at 11 a.m. EDT (9 a.m. MDT). FTC and Colorado Department of Law Common Ground hybrid conference in Denver. Colorado AG Phil Weiser and FTC Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter to speak and host conversation. 

Friday, May 6 at 11 a.m. EDT. ABA webinar, “Fundamentals: Economic Analysis of Labor Effects in Merger Reviews.”  

May 9 at noon EDT. ABA webinar, “Merger Remedies: Can we get this right?” 

May 10 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. CTIA  5G Summit (in-person) in Washington, D.C. Keynote speakers include: White House NEC Director Brian Deese, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and senior wireless executives.   

May 12 at 2 p.m. EDT. FTC-DOJ virtual forum on M&A effects in technology sector. 

May 17 at 9 a.m. PDT. GCRLive in-person conference in San Francisco, “Antitrust and the Digital Economy 2022. 

May 18 at 6:30 p.m. EDT. 2022 Milton Handler Lecture on Antitrust (in-person) conference in New York City. Keynote speaker: DOJ antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter followed by a panel. 

Recent Developments 

Schumer beats drum on lowering gas prices, confirming Bedoya. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Democrats will move legislation to lower the cost of gasoline and other products, and will help the FTC to act by confirming Alvaro Bedoya as commissioner, after the absence of two Senate Democrats and Vice President Kamala Harris prevented floor action. “Democrats are focused like a laser on developing and passing legislation to lower costs and improve Americans’ daily lives,” Schumer said on April 28. 

“We are pushing for legislation to lower the cost of putting food on the table, keep the cost of insulin affordable, help relieve the supply chain crisis, increase competition through antitrust enforcement,” Schumer said. “But passing legislation to fight higher gas prices at the pump is at the very top of our list.” It’s also time for the FTC to roll up its sleeves and drill down on what’s going on at the Big Oil companies,” he said. “Very soon the Senate will confirm Alvaro Bedoya and return the FTC to full strength … Congress must do more to beef up the FTC’s ability to crack down on potential gas price manipulation and price gouging.” 

Republicans continue to blame Democrats for policies the GOP says have increased oil and gas prices and spurred overall inflation. “Under President Biden’s leadership, American energy production has fallen while gasoline prices have reached record highs,” said Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Fred Upton (R-MI) on April 28. GOP legislation would restore U.S. “energy dominance and global leadership,” he said. 

Garland pushes for DOJ antitrust funding hike. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the president’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal to hike DOJ antitrust division funding by 41 percent to $273 million would reinvigorate enforcement, promote competition and protect workers, consumers and businesses. The division “has been underfunded for too long and has nearly 400 fewer staff today than it had in 1979,” said his written statement at an April 28 House appropriations hearing (his April 26 Senate hearing statement was almost identical). “Too many industries have become too consolidated over time. Too many companies have pursued corporate conduct and more aggressive mergers that have made all of us vulnerable.”  

Under questioning from Representative Ed Case (D-HI), Garland said the division is “facing an enormously increased number of mega-mergers, each one of which takes enormously sophisticated and complicated analysis,” requiring skilled lawyers and information technology resources. “So $38.5 million of the request is for IT so that we can come into the 21st Century in our ability to analyze these mergers, and $27.4 million, which is an increase of 112 attorneys, is for antitrust enforcement.” 

“When I came in I was shocked to learn that the only way that we were able to cover the investigations that we were doing was by hiring two-year lawyers,” Garland said. “The companies we are investigating and going to trial against are not hiring two-year lawyers. They are hiring the best of the best of Wall Street and we need to have lawyers who can match that, and we need to have as many lawyers as we can. So it looks like a large increase, but it’s from a very small base.” Case said Garland is “talking about the addition of highly sophisticated forensic accounting, systems that can actually get inside of companies.” Garland replied, “You’re exactly right, and particularly economists.” 

On April 26, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) asked if there should be a criminal price-gouging statute. “This is a matter of huge debate,” Garland responded. “I’d like to hold off on that.” When Manchin asked about existing DOJ price “surveillance,” Garland said, “For us, the questions are unlawful agreements to fix prices and exclusionary behavior by monopolists and near monopolists.” 

Khan and Kanter hear about media and entertainment M&A harms. FTC Chair Lina Khan cited concerns about the harmful impact of media and entertainment mergers. And after hearing from industry workers at an April 28 agency forum, both Khan and DOJ antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter cited further negative M&A fallout. 

There have been “big changes in how these markets are structured, with cable and broadband companies combining and integrating vertically,” Khan said at the outset (video). “Increasingly, we’ve heard concerns that a handful of companies may now again be controlling the bulk of the entertainment supply chain from content creation to distribution.” There are “troubling trends in news media” with “high turnover and growing consolidation,” she said. “I see news and media and entertainment as really being the lifeblood” of “our democracy, and so making sure that we’re not allowing” consolidation that permits “firms to wield outsize power over how information is distributed in our country is especially important.” 

Adam Conover, a writer, actor, and comedian described “the most hilarious subject of all: corporate media mergers.” He said his TruTV show, Adam Ruins Everything, was killed after AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner (TruTV’s parent), despite being a “breakout hit.” He said all other scripted shows were cancelled, and today TruTV largely re-runs a single reality show. “Why would a healthy television network, with hit shows watched in millions of households, voluntarily commit suicide?” The executives said the only reason was the merger, he said. After Warner Media recently merged with Discovery, the new entity decided to end scripted programming at TNT and TBS, two leading cable program networks, he said. 

“When I created Adam Ruins Everything in 2015, we pitched it to TruTV, TNT, TBS, Discovery and HBO,” Conover said. “But today, all those buyers have consolidated into a single entity, HBO Max.” The consolidation is driving lower wages and more onerous working conditions, he said. “Today, we pay more than ever, for less choices,” he said. Other artists and journalists also described M&A problems. 

Khan was struck by “the very real material effects that you’ve described—including higher prices for content, lower quality of content as well as lower income and worse-quality jobs for content producers—but also some of the broader effects” and “what it means for an increasingly small number of firms to be controlling the channels and arteries through which content and news is distributed and sometimes produced.” 

“We heard about how consolidation can result in a decrease in the amount of original programming” and “the silencing of voices,” Kanter said. “We heard about stagnant wages as a result of consolidation, and support-staff wage suppression” and “about independent artists being … victims of power asymmetries.” He noted accounts of “behavioral remedies” for “anticompetitive mergers” being “difficult to administer, expensive for victims,” and “often too little too late” in “addressing harm.” He also noted stories about shrinking newsrooms and how “the lack of professional journalism creates voids for disinformation.” 

FTC Republicans ratchet up criticism of leadership as leftists, Marxists. Republican FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips called the current “administration as hostile” to M&A “as any in my lifetime.” M&A “boils down to three ideas” for antitrust “leadership” and “their fellow travelers,” said his prepared remarks at an April 27 Berkeley Spring Forum in San Francisco. “First, M&A generally produces little social value and a great deal of social cost. Second, the costs include a wide swath of ills including lessened competition but also disadvantaged labor, inflation, and undermined democracy. … Third, M&A is a privilege granted to companies by the government, rather than a natural part of commerce.” The antitrust agencies’ “gratuitous taxes on M&A … are regressive, hitting smaller companies the hardest,” he said. 

GOP Commissioner Christine Wilson gave a speech, “Marxism and Critical Legal Studies Walk into the FTC: Deconstructing the Worldview of the Neo-Brandeisians,” she noted in an April 21 tweet. There are “parallels” between “Marxism, Critical Legal Studies scholars, and Neo-Brandeisians,” said her remarks to a New York University and Information Technology and Innovation Foundation conference. She disputed “the so-called ‘anti-monopoly movement’ is focused only on reining” in the biggest firms: “The logical outworking of these worldviews leads inescapably to the conclusion that the Neo-Brandeisians seek total control of the economy.” An FTC spokesperson didn’t respond to a Capitol Forum query. 

Rebuttal to Wilson published in The American Prospect. Darren Bush, Mark Glick, and Hal Singer penned a rebuttal to Wilson’s speech comparing Neo-Brandeisians to Marxists.  In it, they framed the antimonopoly movement as a return to the Congressional intent of antitrust legislation: “To the extent that one can claim a deviation from antitrust’s tradition, the [Consumer Welfare Standard] has been far more virulent than any other policy prescription. Indeed, the New Brandeisians reflect a traditionalist school of thought, seeking to reset antitrust to its original goals. Its prescriptions are hardly revolutionary. Chair Khan wrote that the New Brandeisian goal of “restoring a theory of power that accords with the original values of antitrust—including a distrust of concentrated private power—is critical for reviving an enforcement regime that can fully address the concentrated market power across our political economy.”” 

Wilson laments falling FTC staff view of agency in survey. The FTC “has been a gem of an agency, a community of professionals dedicated to protecting consumers,” tweeted FTC Commissioner Wilson on April 28, citing an Office of Personnel Management survey that showed a drop in FTC staff morale and how it views the agency. “New leadership has marginalized and disrespected staff, resulting in a brain drain that will take a generation to fix.”  

DOJ backs D.C. motion for court to reconsider dismissal of Amazon suit. DOJ supported District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine’s motion for a D.C. court to reconsider its March 18 dismissal of his antitrust complaint alleging Amazon contractual agreements unlawfully constrain merchants and harm competition. The District brings this suit under D.C. Code sections “that mirror the federal Sherman Antitrust Act” and “D.C. law instructs courts to look to federal law for guidance,” said an April 27 DOJ filing. Sherman Act Section 1 “outlaws any ‘concerted action’ that unreasonably restrains trade,” DOJ said. To establish a claim “the District must show merely (1) there is concerted action (i.e., a ‘contract, combination . . . or conspiracy,’ …); and (2) that action unreasonably restrains trade. … These are distinct elements that require independent analyses,” but the court “incorrectly blended the two.” 

Amazon pointed to its reply opposing the motion: “Amazon’s pro-consumer policies … are intended to ensure that customers receive competitive prices… The antitrust laws are designed to promote and protect such policies, which are common throughout retail and pro-competitive… The Court was correct when it dismissed the Amended Complaint for failure to allege facts showing that Amazon’s policies have anticompetitive effects. The District’s motion for reconsideration should be denied because the District fails to show the “manifest error” required… Nor does the District present any new facts or evidence that it could not have previously presented. Instead, the District repeats the same arguments…” 

Sanders asks Biden to cancel Amazon contracts due to anti-union activity. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) urged President Joe Biden to fulfill a campaign promise and prevent companies unlawfully resisting unionization from receiving federal contracts, and specifically to cancel Amazon contracts, said an April 26 release linking to a letter. “It is abundantly clear that time and time again Amazon has engaged in illegal anti-union activity,” Sanders wrote. “The time has come to tell Amazon that if it wants another federal contract it must obey the law.” He noted Amazon could receive a National Security contract worth up to $10 billion, among others. 

“NSA recently awarded a contract to Amazon Web Services that delivers cloud computing services to support the Agency’s mission,” emailed an NSA spokesperson. “The same cloud services were competed last year and the previously awarded contract was protested to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which “sustained that protest. … [T]he Agency has reevaluated the proposals and made a new best value decision.” Amazon and the White House didn’t respond to Capitol Forum queries. 

Lynn calls for blocking Musk-Twitter deal, cites agencies’ authority. Open Markets Institute Director Barry Lynn said Elon Musk’s planned purchase of Twitter threatens U.S. democracy and free speech, and shouldn’t be allowed as the FCC, DOJ, and FTC have “ample authority” to block it for violating the law. “The most obvious problem is that the deal would give to a single man—one who already wields immense political and economic power—direct control over one of world’s most important platforms for public communications and debate,” Lynn said. 

“The American people have an absolute right to ensure the full openness and neutrality of all essential public infrastructure,” Lynn said.  “Specific to communications, we see this in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, in the Telegraph acts of 1860 and 1866, the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910, the Communications Act of 1934, and many other federal and state laws. Americans have also repeatedly used our antitrust laws to prevent concentrations of power over communications, speech, debate, and news. Citing past prevention of mergers of “essential platforms,” Lynn said Musk’s control of satellite system Starlink, “one of the most important internet platforms in the world,” should also disqualify him from controlling Twitter. 

FCC GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr scoffed at Lynn’s call: “The FCC has no authority to block Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, and to suggest otherwise is absurd. I would welcome the full FCC making it clear that we will not entertain these types of frivolous arguments.” The FCC and DOJ antitrust division didn’t respond to Capitol Forum queries. The FTC declined to comment. 

Grassley touts bills to spur cattle market competition.  Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) pushed two bills—the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act (S. 4030) and the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act (S. 3870)—to boost cattle market competition by helping independent producers get a fair price from large meat packers, which “often enter into hidden contracts with large cattle feedlots,” said his April 26 release. “We’re talking about bringing competition to an industry dominated by four packers and a cozy relationship with the big feedlots of four or five states,” Grassley said at an Agriculture Committee hearing. On a call, Grassley said half of the panel sponsors S. 4030. He decried the “fear tactics of the Big Four Packers.” 

“Tyson does not set the prices for either cattle that we buy or beef that our customers purchase,” said Tyson Foods CEO Donnie King at an April 27 House Agriculture Committee hearing. “There are times when the commodity business cycle favors one party over the other.” In 2015 Tyson lost $66 million while cattle producers and feeders made record margins, he said. 

“Historically, cattle were sold in lots and every animal … received the same average price,” said Tim Schellpeper, JBS USA CEO, but cattlemen “created alternative marketing arrangements” (AMAs) with processors, to get premiums for investing in genetics, animal health and management, and to ensure supply of high-quality cattle. “JBS purchases cattle from cattle feeders and producers of all sizes, in cash markets, auction barns, video auctions, and under AMAs,” and “will compete for quality cattle … wherever and however producers” sell them. 

Warren urges Wells Fargo breakup. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said the Federal Reserve should break up Wells Fargo as a “repeat offender of consumer protection laws.” She made the comment to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra at an April 26 Senate Banking Committee hearing. She noted a Wells Fargo “fake accounts scandal” and a Chopra speech urging regulators to “forcefully address repeat lawbreakers,” said a release. “I think it’s clear that fines have just become a cost-of-doing business for giant corporations like Wells,” she said. “And we can put a stop to that. The Fed has the power to break Wells Fargo up—and they should do it now.” Wells Fargo didn’t respond to a Capitol Forum query. Chopra reportedly traded fire with Republicans over his regulatory efforts. 

U.S., 60 others launch “Declaration of the Future of the Internet.” The United States and 60 global partners issued a “Declaration of the Future of the Internet” with a “positive vision” in the face of opportunity and challenges, the White House announced on April 27. It recommits “to a single global Internet” that’s “truly open and fosters competition, privacy, and respect for human rights.” Russia, China and others seek a “dangerous” new “splinternet” with disinformation and censorship, said senior administration officials. Asked about big tech companies’ role, one official said they’re stakeholders. “But the primary impetus here was to get at this question of state behavior and to meet what we have seen is a very negative trajectory” to “fundamentally change the Internet” from “something that is an instrument of commerce and culture to something that is an instrument of state power.” 

Republicans alarmed by ‘Orwellian’ Disinformation Governance Board. Senate Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Rob Portman (R-OH) is “deeply concerned” about the Department of Homeland Security’s new Disinformation Governance Board. “Our focus should be on bad actors like Russia and China, not our own citizens,” he said on April 28.  House Oversight Committee Republicans slammed Biden’s “Orwellian” board. Biden’s acting like a dictator, said House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). 

Conservatives worry Biden could use the board to “deter speech” he finds objectionable, said the American Economic Liberties Project, but the group is concerned the board could be used by a future Republican president to “pressure tech platforms to censor” progressive advocates. The answer is to break up “Big Tech,” roll back “consolidation of power over speech in the hands of dominant platforms,” and “put in place rules to prohibit surveillance advertising.”  

Republicans eye tech influence on White House OSTP, cite Schmidt. House Republicans said they’re probing “Big Tech’ influence and access at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy” and across the administration.” In letters, the GOP lawmakers “sound the alarm on former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt’s involvement with OSTP,” said an April 26 release of House Oversight Committee Ranking Member James Comer (R-KY), and three other ranking members. “Schmidt’s nonprofit foundation is paying the salaries of several OSTP employees and a whistleblower was demoted after she raised concerns about the troubling arrangement.”