“Large tech by no means loses a legislative battle — and so they simply did” when new payments are handed
Politicians pushing for new legislation that would rein in the power of big tech have seen their hopes pricked and dashed several times over the past few months.
Last week, one of the brighter notes for those supporting the push for new antitrust laws was when the House of Representatives passed a bill that gave enforcers more resources to prosecute anticompetitive mergers and attorneys general more power over which courts they can initiate antitrust cases.
While the legislation passed 242-184 is less ambitious than some of the broader proposals making their way through both houses of Congress, it does offer hope for the community, according to a new memo from the Tech Oversight Project, a nonprofit organization antitrust reform.
“Big tech never loses a legislative battle — and they just did,” executive director Sacha Haworth said in a memo to allies Thursday shared exclusively with CNBC. Recipients included Democrats’ offices on Capitol Hill, think tanks and a coalition of advocacy groups, according to the group.
The Tech Oversight Project is funded by the Omidyar Network, created by regulation advocate and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and the advocacy arm of the Economic Security Project, a nonprofit organization led by The Washington Post, The Washington Post reported Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes who has called for the dissolution of his former company.
Haworth, a veteran of the Democratic campaign, argues that last week’s pivotal passage of the bill shows there’s still a chance two more major bills will pass in the lame duck session later this year. Those bills are the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICO) and the Open App Markets Act (OAMA), which would essentially prevent big platforms like Amazon, Apple, and Google from favoring their own products over competitors that rely on theirs Marketplaces (the latter leaving Bill focused directly on mobile app stores).
Earlier this summer, proponents of antitrust reform took the lame duck as nothing but Hail Marys, as many felt there was still a chance to schedule a vote before the August recess, an informal sign of when the midterm elections are in full swing , making it more difficult to pass new laws. But as the legislature wore on, it became clear that proponents needed to turn their eyes back to the weeks after the midterms.
According to Haworth, last week’s vote gave cause for optimism.
She notes that House Democrats who voted against the package were not among the 20% most competitive districts in the country, based on data from the Cook Political Report. That contradicts speculation that congressional leaders may hesitate to schedule a vote on AICO and OAMA to spare competitive Democrats having to vote on an issue that could be used against them.
Haworth even goes so far as to say, “If this voting pattern holds, AICO and OAMA will easily overtake both chambers.”
She claims Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., the main Republican advocate of technology antitrust reform in the House of Representatives, has delivered on his promise of a “tidal wave of Republican votes” despite opposition from other prominent party members such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy , R-Calif., and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
“Despite Big Tech’s attempts to discredit Grassley and Buck’s efforts, they have proved their hypothesis correct: if they were brought to the full floor, a significant portion of Republicans would switch to Democrats to hold Big Tech accountable.” to pull,” Haworth wrote, citing Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has been lobbying on the bills in that chamber.
Haworth wrote that the conflicting reasons given by Jordan and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., against antitrust reform should prove that “their argument is a red herring intended to muddy the waters.” While Jordan claimed that the bills on the table would help platforms censor information, Lofgren argued that it would do the opposite, making it harder for them to moderate content.
Finally, the memo claims that lame duck legislation is becoming more common, citing a Pew Research Center article last year that found that a significant percentage of legislation passed in recent years is lame duck -time dates. For example, at the 116th Congress, held in 2019-2020, nearly 44% of the bills that passed did so in the lame duck.
“Big tech and its allies will continue to push the narrative that bipartisan antitrust reform is dead,” Haworth wrote. “Not so fast. While anti-big-tech advocates keep a clear eye on the task at hand, the outcome is not set in stone.”
Read the full letter from The Tech Oversight Project below: