An Early Conservative Victory in the War on Big Tech
Few issues have galvanized the conservative base in recent years quite like the threat of Big Tech. Persistent political censorship, from the suppression of reporting to the deplatforming of a sitting president, has given conservatives ample reason to be incensed. But a few conservative lawmakers, such as Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), have rightly diagnosed recurring Big Tech censorship not as isolated events, but as downstream symptoms of a much broader problem: monopoly power.
These aspiring conservative trust-busters have faced formidable headwinds. Fellow Republicans have questioned their fidelity to the free market and accused them of enabling the Left, while aggressive corporate lobbying and a hostile press beholden to Big Tech have tried to stymie their spirited legislative efforts.
But now, anti-monopoly conservatives can declare a major victory. On Thursday, the House passed the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act of 2022. Don’t let the anodyne name fool you; the antitrust package is a bold first step that will fortify national security, curtail corporate abuses, and restore free competition to core American markets.
The package pushes reforms along three crucial fronts. First, it will expose the malign influence in our markets of the Chinese Communist Party and other hostile regimes. The bill includes provisions that will require companies operating in the U.S. to disclose ties to foreign governments when they enter into a merger agreement. Analysts have documented China’s endemic influence throughout the American economy. But the added transparency measure in this bill will help ensure that businesses owned by, or beholden to, hostile regimes do not undermine American competitiveness. It is a commonsense and, indeed, necessary tool to better secure the American economy and preserve the American way of life.
The package also fixes a long-standing issue in antitrust lawsuits: venue selection. When state attorneys general bring antitrust lawsuits against Big Tech firms, the cases are not necessarily heard in the state in which they are filed. Instead, they are typically consolidated with similar cases and moved to other parts of the country—often to a monopoly-friendly court. This enables Big Tech firms to escape the letter of the law, and has already frustrated noble efforts by some conservative state officials to hold Big Tech accountable. For example, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit against Google was removed to a New York district court, where a corporate-friendly judge is poised to dismiss it on abstruse procedural grounds.
The new bill exempts state antitrust cases from this process of consolidation and transfer, thus leveling the playing field for state attorneys general and empowering citizens’ elected representatives to hold the Big Tech firms accountable. This should better pave the way for anti-Big Tech state officials, such as Attorney General Paxton, to pursue legal recourse against Big Tech’s abuses of power.
The third and final front of reform is the most necessary—but perhaps the most controversial. The bill reforms the filing fee system that corporations pay when they merge, and increases the fee for transactions exceeding $1 billion. The provision rightly penalizes the largest and most complex mergers while generating necessary funding for federal law enforcement. The fees haven’t been increased in more than two decades, yet the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division faces a severe budget crunch. Recent reports have even suggested that the agency would have to choose between a case against Apple and another one against Google.
The increased fees drew harsh criticism from some Republicans, such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). But their accusations revealed more about the accusers than the accused. Some falsely claimed that funds would empower Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan and other progressive officials under Khan; in fact, the bill make specific provisions to prevent that. Others objected that raising fees would discourage value-creating corporate mergers and distort market behavior. But of course, such mergers are fueling a consolidation in pivotal American markets that stifles competition and innovation—and rarely generate value for the merging companies, to boot.
Such lawmakers may claim to stand for the rule of law, but they refuse to fund law enforcement when the targets are monopolistic corporations. They may claim the mantle of the free market, but they aid and abet the very corporate practices that undermine it. Curious, that.
Thursday’s successful vote in support of the antitrust package should send a clear signal—that conservatives are alert to the threats that Big Tech and monopoly power pose not only to political speech, but to free and competitive markets in general. In the fight against monopoly power, conservatives must pick a side: big business or the free market.
If Thursday’s victory is any indication, a critical mass of conservatives choose the latter. Let’s hope they will build upon it after taking back Congress this fall.
Wells King is the research director at American Compass.