President Joe Biden’s pick for progressive antitrust crusader Lina Khan to head the Federal Trade Commission suggests that there will not be a repetition under his administration of the “glory days” enjoyed by Big Tech industry lobbyists during Barack Obama’s two White House terms.
“When I’m president of the United States, if you want to work for my administration, you can’t leave my administration and then go lobby,” Obama said.
But it turns out, yes you can. Former Obama aide and campaign mastermind David Plouffe went to work for the Silicon Valley swamp as senior vice president of policy and strategy at Uber after leaving the White House. Then he joined Facebook’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, where he led policy and advocacy efforts.
In the first quarter of 2019, 17 former staffers in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office were active registered lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Catlin O’Neill, Pelosi’s former chief of staff, went to work in Facebook’s Washington, D.C., office.
In Congress, Democrats and some Republican lawmakers are cheering antitrust investigations by the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission that could lead to the breakup of Big Tech companies and curb their market power, Wall Street Journal reported: “The clearest sign of the declining influence of tech companies in Washington is coming from the White House.”
Kahn, 32, is a critic of tech giants and corporate concentration who has become a leading figure in a growing movement that calls for more aggressive policing of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. Her research is credited with reframing decades of monopoly law in a single scholarly article.
In early 2017, as an unknown law student, Khan published an article titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal. The 93-page article got 146,255 views at the time — that’s like a best-seller in the world of legal treatises, SludgeFeed reported. In her opposition to Amazon’s seeming immunity from antitrust regulations, she argued that low prices shouldn’t make the tech giant immune to antitrust legislation.
Born in London to Pakistani parents, Khan moved with them to the U.S. when she was 11. Kahn has spent the last 10 years becoming a leading voice in a growing movement that calls for more aggressive policing of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. She’s in a position to put those ideas into action and possibly transform how the U.S. regulates its biggest companies, New York Times reported.
As head of the FTC, Khan will be the boss of more than 1,000 investigators, lawyers and economists who are responsible for policing the American economy. But she will need to persuade four other FTC commissioners that she is right if she wants to take big action against Big Tech or create new rules. Her decisions will also have to hold up in the courts, which tend to push back against aggressive antitrust enforcement.
“If you want your vision to endure, you have to change law and policy, and you can’t do that by yourself,” said William Kovacic, a former FTC chairman.
More than 80 percent of the 334 people registered to lobby for Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google in 2020 previously worked on Capitol Hill or in the White House, according to the nonpartisan research group Center for Responsive Politics, Wall Street Journal reported.
Tech industry lobbyists now face a new reality. This year, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), introduced legislation to make it easier for the government to break up tech firms, despite requests by tech lobbyists to take the edge off the legislation. Five House tech bills came together this month, and lobbyists for the companies most affected said they were frozen out of the process.
“The industry was very much treated as the enemy, and one to be isolated,” one lobbyist told the Wall Street Journal.
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