Congressional panels that gutted DOJ antitrust arm have Big Tech ties: watchdogs

Key committees in both houses of Congress are riddled with cozy ties to Big Tech — and conflicts of interest could undercut a looming antitrust crackdown on Google and Apple, two watchdog groups warned.

Last month, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees were ripped by antitrust hawks after they passed a spending package that included a $45 million cut to the projected budget of the Justice Department’s antitrust arm – with Big Tech critics Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) among those who called for it to be reversed.

Multiple members of the powerful panels have received campaign contributions from or are personally invested in Big Tech firms, according to a joint report set to be released Tuesday by the Revolving Door Project and Fight For The Future.

Commerce subcommittee chief Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), has taken money from companies under antitrust scrutiny, including $10,000 from Meta. AFP via Getty Images

The antitrust watchdogs also called out Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who sets the floor agenda and has two daughters who work for tech firms. Schumer has taken “more than $780,000 in campaign contributions from the sector, more than almost any member of Congress,” according to the report.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has received more than $1 million from Big Tech firms or their employees during her career, and vice chair Susan Collins (R-Maine) has received more than $44,000 in campaign funds from tech since 2019 and alongside her husband owns up to $550,000 in tech stocks.

“Unfortunately, even as they are intervening to cut funding for antitrust enforcement against Big Tech and other corporate giants, [the lawmakers] and their staff are making money, collecting campaign contributions, and building their corporate networks from those very same companies—putting their professionalism and even their ethics in doubt,” the report said.

On the House side, Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) has taken more than $42,000 from Big Tech sources, while top-ranking Democrat Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has received more than $8,000.

The report also identified more than three dozen “revolving door” staffers with ties to the Appropriations committees or their members who have currently or formerly worked as lobbyists for Big Tech — either by taking policy gigs at companies or joining friendly proxy groups.

“Big Tech plants their own lobbyists in staff positions on Appropriations and other powerful committees, and in budget-related government positions,” the report said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and has received over $44,000 in campaign funds from tech since 2019. Getty Images

In other cases, Congressional staffers attended lavish Big Tech-funded trips to conferences and policy summits, where they were “wined and dined” while being bombarded by the industry’s talking points.

In one instance, Maryana Sawaged, a legislative aide for Murray, took a three-day trip to Silicon Valley that was funded by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, an influential Big Tech-funded think tank, according to disclosures.

Sawaged purportedly stayed at the swanky Wild Palms Hotel in Sunnyvale and “joined dozens of Congressional legislative and policy staffers” in attending a policy summit, which included a discussion of “Google’s perspective” on potential artificial intelligence regulations, the report said.

One of the lawmakers singled out for criticism was Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), whose senior staffers have purportedly took “trip after trip” funded by Big Tech to ritzy locales such as Aspen and Las Vegas dating back to 2016.

Schatz, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Commerce subcommittee, has also received $150,000 in campaign cash from Big Tech sources since 2013, according to the report.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has reportedly received more than $1 million in campaign cash from Big Tech during her career. REUTERS

Commerce subcommittee chief Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), has taken money from companies under antitrust scrutiny, including $10,000 from Meta.

The appropriations package capped the DOJ antitrust division’s budget at $233 million – an increase of $8 million compared to the previous year, but still down from a previously estimated $278 million for fiscal 2024 – by limiting what it can collect from pre-merger filing fees. The antitrust team has long relied on the fees to fund its operations.

The cap was enacted despite the passage in December 2022 of a bipartisan measure called the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, which was meant to increase fees and provide more funding for the DOJ’s antitrust arm.

A Collins spokesperson said the senator “not own any shares of stock in individual companies, and she has never owned any shares of stock. Her investments such as her IRA are in mutual funds.”

Her husband, Tom Daffron, has “no involvement in the purchase or sale of any of the stocks in his diversified portfolio” and the “investment decisions are made exclusively by a third-party advisor without consultation with him.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) was among the lawmakers singled out in the watchdog report. CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“Senator Collins played no role in the negotiations over the budget for the Department of Justice, including its Antitrust Division,” the spokesperson added.

A Schumer representative declined to comment. Representatives for Murray, Granger, DeLauro, Schatz and Shaheen did not return requests for comment.

After facing pressure from fellow lawmakers and others, Shaheen vowed last month to reverse the limits placed on fee collections in the fiscal 2025 budget. The White House has also submitted a proposed budget for fiscal 2025 that would deliver a $63 million boost to the DOJ’s antitrust division, Bloomberg reported.

As The Post has reported, Apple is in the midst of a major charm offensive on Capitol Hill, which has included record federal lobbying spending and at least 12 White House visits by CEO Tim Cook since President Biden took office in 2021.

The DOJ antitrust division lost funding even as it fights legal battles with Apple and Google. AP

Last month, multiple sources raised concerns about Apple’s tight relationship with the Biden administration given the Congressional effort to gut funding for the DOJ’s antitrust wing.

The DOJ recently sued Apple for allegedly using anticompetitive business practices to ensure the dominance of its iPhone.

Separately, the DOJ is in the midst of a historic lawsuit that aims to break up Google’s online search business.

A federal judge is expected to rule on whether Google has maintain an illegal monopoly later this year.

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