White House Official Cozied Up to Google Before Antitrust Lawsuit Was Shelved
David Dayen reports in The Intercept:
When the Federal Trade Commission neared a momentous decision on whether to charge Google with violating antitrust laws in January 2013, the White House was watching closely.
New emails uncovered by the Campaign for Accountability, a public interest watchdog organization, show that a White House advisor met with top Google lobbyist Johanna Shelton and top Google antitrust counsel Matthew Bye twice in the weeks before the FTC announcement.
And minutes prior to the final decision – in which FTC commissioners took the unusual step of overriding their staff’s recommendation to sue, and voted to settle the case instead – the White House official even sought Google’s talking points in the matter.
The FTC is an independent agency within the executive branch. As with the Justice Department, the White House political staff is prohibited from contacting federal regulators who might bring a formal case on behalf of the government. And ever since Richard Nixon stifled the antitrust investigation into ITT, a major donor, White House interference in antitrust cases has been particularly forbidden.
When Donald Trump threatened to bring up Amazon on antitrust charges because he was getting bad press from the Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, it was correctly seen as chilling.
The revelation about the White House’s contacts with Google prior to the FTC decision is another example of the extraordinarily close relationship between Google and the Obama White House. In April, the Campaign for Accountability found — and The Intercept published — evidence from the White House’s own records of frequent meetings between Google staff and Obama administration personnel – over one a week since the beginning of his presidency – and spins through the revolving door between Google and the U.S. government. Nearly 250 people have shuttled from government service to Google employment or vice versa over the course of Obama’s tenure.
This close contact, as well as Google’s partnership with the executive branch on a host of projects, almost inevitably breeds a camaraderie that is at odds with the ability of the government to actually regulate a private company. The West Wing’s coziness with Google officials prior to the antitrust decision speaks to that.
At the time, the FTC was looking into allegations that Google harmed Internet customers and its rivals by prioritizing its own companies and affiliates in search engine results and its placement of online advertising on its search sites. The staff of the Bureau of Competition at the FTC recommended suing after concluding that Google engaged in anticompetitive conduct that “has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and to innovation.” . . .