Hawley, critic of Big Tech, proposes ‘trust-busting’ agenda

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a populist conservative who is viewed as a potential White House candidate in 2024, on Monday unveiled his Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act, taking a shot at large tech corporations such as Facebook and Google, which critics claim have an anti-conservative bias.

“A small group of woke mega-corporations control the products Americans can buy, the information Americans can receive, and the speech Americans can engage in. These monopoly powers control our speech, our economy, our country, and their control has only grown because Washington has aided and abetted their quest for endless power,” Hawley said in a statement Monday.

“Woke corporations want to run this country and Washington is happy to let them,” he said. 

He added, “It’s time to bust them up and restore competition.” 

Hawley’s aggressive anti-trust approach harkens back to former President Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican best known for using the Sherman Antitrust Act on business monopolies.

Hawley wants to reform the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts to make it clear that evidence of anticompetitive conduct is sufficient to support an antitrust claim, which would make it easier for federal regulators to break up dominant firms.

In his press release, Hawley argues that antitrust claims should be pursued without becoming bogged down in academic debates over the definition of particular markets.

He points to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram as a market action that would warrant scrutiny without having to define what makes up a social networking market.

Hawley’s bill would also ban all mergers and acquisitions by companies with market capitalizations exceeding $100 billion. Specifically he notes it would bar Google from purchasing Waze, an app that helps users avoid traffic, and incorporating it into its own mapping app.

The legislation would empower the Federal Trade Commission to designate “dominant digital firms” exercising dominant power in particular markets that would be restricted from buying out competitors. The goal would be to stop Facebook or another social media company from extending its dominance in social networking by buying up startups building new platforms that could become future competitors.

It would prohibit dominant digital firms such as Google from giving greater prominence to their own search results over those of competitors without notifying users that Google-affiliated results are being privileged.

His approach is a nod to former President Trump’s populist style of conservative politics but it’s likely to run into pushback from fellow Republicans who may view the trust-busting measure as anti-free market.

Hawley, however, argues that Washington has been complacent for too long and the growing power of a handful of corporations is hurting the economy and imperiling freedom of speech and competition.

“While Big Tech, Big Banks, Big Telecom, and Big Pharma gobbled up more companies and more market share, they gobbled up our freedom and competition. American consumers and workers have paid the price,” he said Monday.

Hawley pushed legislation in the last Congress to strip liability protections from tech companies unless they agreed to submit to external audits to show that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral.

Hawley has claimed new impetus to act after corporations including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines and Major League Baseball criticized Georgia’s new election law. Some Republicans have called the political pressure from these corporations, which included the relocation of the 2021 MLB All-Star Game, “economic blackmail.”

The GOP senator argues that the growing power of major corporations pose a threat to free speech, something he laid out in his new book, “The Tyranny of Big Tech.”

In the book, he calls tech companies “the robber barons of the modern era” that are “determining elections, banning inconvenient political views, lining politicians’ pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars and addicting kids to screens.” 

Hawley’s legislation would also clarify that vertical mergers are not exempt from antitrust scrutiny and dramatically increase antitrust penalties by requiring companies that lose antitrust suits to forfeit profits gained from anti-competitive conduct.

The clarification on vertical mergers would stop a company like Amazon from buying other companies in its supply chain. 

Tags Anti-competitive practices antitrust antitrust legislation Big tech Clayton Antitrust Act Donald Trump Josh Hawley Sherman Antitrust Act

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