Charles Koch

Charles Koch stands for a portrait after an interview with the Washington Post at the Freedom Partners Summit on Monday, August 3, 2015 in Dana Point, CA.

(Photo by Patrick T. Fallon for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Koch Network Spending Big to Torpedo Big Tech Anti-Trust Reforms

When the next big disaster unfolds due to deregulation, don’t be fooled.

In the past couple of months, Americans have suffered disastrous consequences from deregulation initiated during the Trump administration: in transit, the East Palestine derailment threatening the lives and livelihoods of thousands; in banking, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank that are still roiling financial markets.

The good news is that despite the overall deregulatory bent of the last administration, the Biden administration has been strengthening antitrust enforcement, plus there have been bipartisan efforts, led in the House by David Cicilline (D-RI) and Ken Buck (R-CO), to strengthen antitrust protections and curb the growing power of Big Tech.

Those bipartisan efforts were stymied thanks to intense lobbying from libertarian-leaning tech companies, think tanks, and advocates, with Big Money funding from the donor network of libertarian oil billionaire Charles Koch, whose influence over antitrust legislation goes back decades. As the new GOP-helmed Congress contemplates reforms, it’s already clear that party leaders like Jim Jordan (R-OH) and libertarian Thomas Massie (R-KY) — who are recipients of Koch cash themselves — are planning to do Big Tech’s bidding and delay or kill regulation and let the companies continue accumulating market power.

From privacy concerns around consumer data to predatory pricing locking out small businesses to the flood of disinformation on social media, Americans have become aware of how much market concentration the big four technology companies have achieved. Americans of all political parties agree that Big Tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google have too much power and need to be reined in. President Biden has made promoting competition and ending monopolies a cornerstone of his economic agenda, but he can only do so much facing Republican obstructionism in the House. While congressional action has stalled, the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are working to fully enforce existing antitrust laws.

The tech companies, think tanks, advocates, and Koch network continue to fight these efforts. A far-right founder of the notoriously obstructionist House Freedom Caucus, Jim Jordan is now chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee which oversees antitrust policy. In January, he named Thomas Massie as chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee, ignoring precedent and bypassing the more senior Ken Buck, whom many had presumed would lead it. Jordan’s move was not unexpected though, as he opposed Buck’s antitrust regulatory approach in favor of a more libertarian one.

Jim Jordan’s ties to the Koch brothers date back to at least 2008, when he became the first member of Congress to sign onto the No Climate Tax pledge, an initiative of the Koch advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. Koch Industries PAC has donated $60k to Jordan since 2011 – the maximum allowed for each of the last six elections – and he has been a featured speaker for at least one of the secretive Koch donor retreats.

Thomas Massie has been a recipient of Koch cash since he assumed office in 2012. Like Charles Koch, Massie earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also like Koch, Massie is an avowed champion of deregulation, having sponsored bills to abolish both the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency.

A recent, fawning profile by the New York Times claims that “Mr. Massie’s politics are very much at odds with the interests of the Republican Party’s traditional donor class and leadership” and notes his “resistance to the influence wielded by corporations and interest groups over our policymaking” – without noting the funding from Koch (a long-time member of the traditional GOP donor class) or the high scores Massie has received for his legislative votes from Americans for Prosperity.

While Charles Koch is most commonly known for his oil interests, he also has a large stake in Silicon Valley – his son Chase runs the venture capital arm, Koch Disruptive Technologies, launched in 2017, the same year his political groups began partnering with Big Tech on public policy fights in DC.

Though Massie is hailed as an anti-establishment contrarian by TheNew York Times author, his voting record advances the agenda of a libertarian oil and tech billionaire whose primary concerns are juicing corporate profits and deregulating industries his companies already dominate.

But it’s easy to see why Massie would want to cultivate an anti-establishment, anti-corporate image: it’s popular with the electorate. GOP voters overwhelmingly support antitrust regulation. In a 2022 poll, 73% of Republican voters said that Big Tech companies are not regulated enough, and 85% of them agree that Big Tech companies have become too powerful, are destroying competition, and are abusing consumers through monopoly behavior.

These popular antitrust policy ideas supported by Republican voters are met with lip service from Republican leaders. Look instead at their actions. Jim Jordan’s public rebuke of Ken Buck’s antitrust work in the last Congress, and naming instead Thomas Massie to lead antitrust policy negotiations, are clear signals that Jordan intends to stall congressional reforms in the tech industry as long as the Republicans hold their House majority.

When the next big disaster unfolds due to deregulation, don’t be fooled. Republicans are deflecting blame by attacking the Biden administration as insufficiently populist, but the seeds of the East Palestine train derailment and Silicon Valley Bank bailout were sown under the Trump deregulatory regime and more broadly by the anti-government ethos of the GOP and its Big Money donors.

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