Some Republicans Love Lina Kahn’s Monopoly Busting Efforts - Others Are Trying To Stop Her

The FTC Chairwoman is dividing Republicans while making all the right enemies.

The story

Since the beginning of her tenure, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Lina Khan has garnered attention from powerful players in Washington, collecting wins for the agency while making unlikely allies and her fair share of enemies. Most recently, the FTC voted to ban noncompete agreements, a move that received praise but also sparked intense backlash and a lawsuit from powerful opposition.

Documents newly obtained by Upward News detail a coordinated pattern of investigations targeting the FTC by corporate lobbyists and Congressional Republicans, most prominently involving Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and the highly influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCOC).

The GOP congressmen use FOIA requests and committee letters to probe various FTC actions — such as "zombie" voting practices, banning noncompete agreements, blocking corporate mergers, and disputing provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better Act — under pressure from the Chamber. Further, the lawmakers and business groups accused the FTC of colluding with foreign regulators against U.S. tech companies and mishandling confidential information during merger reviews.

However, Republicans are divided. Pro-business instincts have set many GOP lawmakers against Lina Khan’s FTC and its mission to prevent major American companies from consolidating power. But the rise of populism within the Republican Party sparked the same anti-monopoly fervor that has traditionally been a focus of progressive Democrats. So, despite Lina Khan’s progressive bona fides, she has become the darling of Big Tech-skeptical conservatives.

Lina Khan has long been a critic of Big Tech, and she advocates for stronger antitrust enforcement. She plays a pivotal role in arguing for stringent scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions, contending that consolidations reduce competition and negatively impact consumers, leading to higher prices and fewer choices. Under her leadership, the FTC has pursued cases against giants like Microsoft and Amazon, alleging their engagement in practices that harm consumers.

Khan’s drive to take on entities like Amazon, Meta, Google, and Microsoft has made enemies, not only of lawmakers who staunchly defend America’s neoliberal, anti-regulation economic system but also of their juggernaut lobbying representative, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

One analysis found in its 400 most recent court cases — typically against government scrutiny — the Chamber of Commerce backed businesses with over $1 billion in revenue in 94 percent of cases. They represented small businesses with under 500 employees in only 23 cases. Though it is not inherently wrong to support major companies, the USCOC does not merely advocate for local “mom and pop” shops. The largest corporations in the United States have leveraged their vast resources to influence the Chamber and to lobby against threatening legislation in Washington.

The sides

In Congress, Senators J.D. Vance (R-OH) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) were among nearly two dozen Senate Republicans to approve Khan’s appointment to the FTC. Vance recently said Lina Khan is “one of the few people in the Biden administration that is doing a pretty good job.”

Even the often controversial and partisan Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) voiced his support for Khan, observing, “As the Republican Party becomes more working class, we’re less captive to the neolibertarian view that everything big business does to people is okay.”

Growing numbers of conservatives who commend Chairwoman Khan’s work have unabashedly styled themselves as “Khanservatives.” Khanservatives are proud to challenge the “conventional libertarian and neoliberal right” by defending the FTC's attempts to “reduce market coercion.”

In contrast, Republicans like California Reps. Darrell Issa and Kevin Kiley have been particularly vocal in speaking against Khan’s leadership, joining more economically traditional lawmakers like Jordan, Comer, and Cruz.

Issa and Kiley challenged the FTC’s substantial budget increase and cited the agency’s recent legal defeats, including the failed attempt to prevent Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard, as evidence of Khan’s ineffectiveness. These critiques reflect a more conventional Republican position — the FTC’s aggressive regulatory approach could slow business operations and economic growth while ballooning the size and scope of government.

The scoop

Documents provided to Upward News uncover a tight-knit alliance between conservative pro-business groups and GOP members of Congress. During Biden’s tenure, Congressional Republicans and allied groups mirrored each other's efforts to combat the FTC, often working in tandem.

In over a dozen instances, the USCOC or other right-of-center groups like Americans for Prosperity and Competitiveness Coalition issued FOIA requests or submitted letters to obtain FTC documents on policies they oppose, with Republican members of Congress consistently taking the same action weeks or months later.

A clear pattern emerged, revealing a conservative astroturf campaign aimed at blocking numerous FTC actions taken to curb business practices the agency considers harmful. The campaign is driven by powerful pro-business groups, which are influenced by the exact corporate powers meant to be reined in by the FTC.

Big Tech companies also fund the USCOC and swap personnel to strengthen its lobbying efforts in Washington. From 2015 to 2019, Amazon donated $70,000 to the USCOC. Microsoft injected nearly $900,000 into the group and its affiliates between 2016-2018. Even during Trump’s administration, corporate giants were guarding against the federal government’s efforts to diminish their economic power.

The Chamber's increasing ties with corporate giants were further exposed in 2018 when a former Amazon lobbyist transitioned to lead the USCOC’s supply chain policy and registered as a USCOC lobbyist. To this day, the employee lobbies Washington on behalf of the Chamber.

The USCOC vehemently opposed six antitrust bills approved by the House of Representatives in 2021. In 2022, it opposed a Senate bill aimed at preventing Big Tech platforms from imposing restrictions on competitors' business activities within their own platforms; after Apple tried limiting the availability of Google apps on its App Store, it was fined $2 billion by the European Union.

In scathing attacks, USCOC president Suzanne Clark accused Lina Khan of "waging a war against American businesses." The Chamber alleged FTC "abuse of power" and criticized its efforts to combat false advertising, fake reviews, and misleading endorsements. It further contested a White House council created to address economic competition and antitrust concerns related to Big Tech, and criticized it as being the government’s attempt to micromanage the economy.

Finally, the Chamber expanded efforts beyond the FTC, vowing to challenge "overreach" in agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Department of Justice (DOJ), and any entity seeking to increase regulation on Big Tech firms.

Why it matters

USCOC influence cannot be overstated; in 2021, the Chamber of Commerce spent over $66 million on lobbying, outspending any other entity in the nation by more than $20 million. Its influence has been exemplified by near-synchronous efforts with Republicans in Congress to obstruct regulation of major American corporations. Big Tech behemoths gaining control inside the USCOC gives them massive influence in Washington, setting up antitrust crusader Lina Khan to be enemy number one.

Though Khan’s track record is not entirely aligned with the conservative movement, it resonates with many of its principles. Khan is delivering on several promises Donald Trump made — taking action against Big Tech, bolstering American manufacturing, curbing Big Pharma’s alleged fraud and price gouging, and striving to end unchecked private surveillance.

As the world's biggest tech firms strengthen ties with the United States's biggest lobbying group, Lina Khan is staring down formidable opposition as she seeks to protect consumers from corporate monopolies and market dominance.

Now, Chairwoman Khan is finding allies on both sides of the political aisle.

Join the conversation

or to participate.