Something strange happened last week in a dreary, gray office building on the edge of the Capitol complex.
After hours of debate, lawmakers in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee were ready to vote on the second of six antitrust laws aimed at containing the tech industry.
San Jose Democrat Zoe Lofgren, who represents much of Silicon Valley, voted against the promotion of the legislation along with Elk Grove Republican MP Tom McClintock, whose district encompasses large parts of the Sierra Nevada.
It is rare these days for members of the Democratic and Republican House of Representatives in California to agree on many things. But the state’s powerful and often lavish technology industries remain one of those exceptions.
Lofgren and McClintock have teamed up with Rep. Luis Correa (D-Santa Ana), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) to oppose the legislative package that last week the Justice Committee has passed.
“The marathon surcharge … contained several bills that would radically change America’s leading tech companies, and made it crystal clear that the legislative text under discussion is far from ready for scrutiny,” the group said in a joint statement released minutes after the surcharge process was ended.
Last year, legislators turned their attention to so-called big tech, increasingly alarmed by the economic and political influence of companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon.
The six antitrust laws differ in scope and approach. One of the less controversial bills in the package would increase state fees for large merger processing, money that could be used to strengthen antitrust enforcement. Another would prevent companies from moving antitrust proceedings to courts they deem more beneficial.
Others are more far-reaching, such as the Ending Platform Monopoles Act, which could force certain companies to divest businesses that have an “incompatible conflict of interest” with the platform’s primary business.
The six bills, which represent the most aggressive cartel package in decades, all came out of the committee.
But the California delegation is proving to be a major obstacle. Even California members who voted to pass the bills off the judiciary committee last week warned their votes should not be viewed as approving the package in its current form, and minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) has stood up on the other hand pronounced the legislation
“I want to make it clear that I voted to remove the bills from the committee, understanding that the sponsors will address concerns raised before and during the vote in committee,” said MP Karen Bass (D -Los Angeles) after the markup hearing.
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is the only California member who fully supports the package. She admitted that her opinion was split from her colleagues in the Bay Area and said they were free to propose changes to the law. However, she noted that there was also bipartisan support for containing the industry.
“You can put forward what you want,” Pelosi said Thursday, “but we will not ignore the consolidation that has taken place and the concerns on both sides of the aisle.”
California’s 53-strong delegation is the largest of any state, and tech companies have cracked down on the legislation. Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke to Pelosi about the bills earlier this month.
Big Tech has donated generously to campaign funds for many California politicians in the past.
Lofgren has received around $ 180,000 in campaign money over the course of her career from Google and its parent company Alphabet alone. She has also received hefty donations from Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle, Cisco, and the National Venture Capital Assn.
Swalwell counts AT&T, Facebook, Oracle and Intel among his top four contributors. Together they gave him more than $ 160,000 in campaign money.
Outside the Bay Area, Correa has taken money from Comcast and medical device companies.
McClintock has received donations totaling more than $ 50,000 from AT&T during his tenure, and Issa has money from Alphabet and the Consumer Technology Assn. since he came to Congress.
Pelosi is also well funded by technology companies. For the 2020 campaign cycle, her top donors included Alphabet, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Comcast and AT&T.
Top legislators in the House of Representatives appear to be keen to get the Californian delegation on board with the cartel package. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Said on Tuesday that “there is a lot of discussion” before the bills go into parliament.
“This discussion will take place, and to some extent, I think it will also be informed of what the Senate believes and what the Senate leadership believes is possible,” Hoyer said. “So right now they’re not ready for the floor, and I don’t want to predict when they’ll be ready.”
While lawmakers are digging into the details of the bills, other avenues for cartel reform are also facing difficulties.
Earlier this month, the Senate approved progressive antitrust expert Lina Khan as a member of the Federal Trade Commission, which consumer advocates hoped would usher in a new era of enforceable antitrust enforcement for the agency.
But on Wednesday, Amazon filed a motion with the FTC to withdraw Khan from antitrust investigations into the company, claiming their previous criticism of his power shows that it cannot be impartial.
And Facebook won a court ruling on Monday dismissing two lawsuits filed by the FTC and a coalition of states attempting to liquidate the company and dealing a blow to regulators.
While the FTC is still expected to exhaust its regulatory powers and scrutinize upcoming mergers, the ruling put increased pressure on lawmakers and highlighted the antitrust package.
“This decision underscores the urgent need to modernize our antitrust laws to combat anti-competitive mergers and abusive behavior in the digital economy,” said Justice Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (DN.Y.) in a joint statement with MP David Cicilline ( DR.). .I.) On Monday.
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