Dear Chief of Staff Ron Klain:
In light of renewed popular interest in American anti-monopoly policy — particularly antitrust law’s applicability to major internet technology firms like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple — three as-yet unfilled appointments in the Biden administration have garnered unusually intense public interest: the Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, and the two unfilled Commissioner positions at the Federal Trade Commission.
A recent report indicates that legal scholar Lina Khan is slated to receive one of these unfilled Commissioner positions. If this is accurate, we highly commend the administration for elevating one of the most important antitrust scholars of our time to this role. As you no doubt know, Khan’s article “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” upended antitrust legal theory in a way few law articles do, promulgating ideas which have now led to a popular wave of anti-monopolist thinking among the general public.
However, while the replacement of Rohit Chopra with Lina Khan would be welcome, it leaves major unanswered questions around who the Administration will select as chair of the Commission, who will fill the remaining Commission vacancy, and who will serve as Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust at the Department of Justice. It is precisely Amazon’s monopolistic power which gives us concern. Such a powerful corporation will no doubt expend enormous political and economic capital to limit the power of anti-monopoly forces and their ability to curb its power. Of particular note is Amazon’s direct route into influencing Oval Office strategy and policy conversation, by way of White House Counselor Steve Ricchetti.
Amazon hired Ricchetti’s brother Jeff as a lobbyist in December 2020, as part of Jeff’s most lucrative quarter in a decade as a lobbyist. The reason why is self-evident: Jeff’s brother has the ear of the most powerful man on earth, and the Ricchetti brothers are close — they opened their eponymous lobbying firm together. Then-fellow Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta once compared himself and the Ricchettis to the Medicis of Renaissance Florence.
Existing ethics law has no meaningful tools to prevent Jeff Ricchetti from leaning on his brother to satisfy Amazon’s policy goals. The only things preventing unethical abuse of this relationship are personal promises by the Ricchetti brothers — and after decades of disappointments from administrations of both parties, personal promises by lobbyists and political operatives are met with hard-earned cynicism.
This is not the only gaping ethical hole through which tech monopolies may exert influence over antitrust appointments. Despite her history as a founding principal at WestExec Advisors — a consultancy which advised Google on global policy strategy — and her work providing legal services to Apple, Inc as disclosed to the Office of Government Ethics, existing ethics law will not prevent Lisa Monaco from playing any role in deliberations over the administration’s Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust. These gaps in the current ethics regime should make clear that careful adherence to imperfect and outdated laws is not enough to insulate this administration from dangerous conflicts of interest.
To close discrete avenues for undue corporate influence over personnel decisions, the administration must demand that those who are entangled with Big Tech — through past employment or present family ties — recuse themselves from deliberations over antitrust policy and personnel.
The Biden administration must model the sort of ethical and independent governance which the previous administration both scoffed at and defied. Allowing those with substantial ties to Big Tech monopolies to influence appointments which could pose an existential threat to said monopolies would undermine that ethical and independent governance, breaching the trust the American people have placed in the administration. It would not go unnoticed by anti-monopolists on both sides of the political aisle. Therefore, we urge you to isolate the Ricchetti family from any decisions relevant to Amazon, to isolate Monaco from any decisions relevant to Google, and to maintain independence and integrity when choosing your staff and nominees on any issue, including the power of Big Tech.
Revolving Door Project