- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2020

Conservative groups want Congress’ face-off with Big Tech to build political momentum to hold companies responsible for purported bias and censorship but disagree about how to do it.

Some conservatives expressed profound disappointment with lawmakers’ treatment of CEOs from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, saying Republicans let them off the hook for their alleged anticompetitive behavior and political bias.

Mike Davis, founder of the conservative Internet Accountability Project, said consumers of Big Tech got no reassurance or comfort from lawmakers’ interrogating the CEOs this week.

“Businesses who feel they have been mistreated by these companies in the online marketplace cannot feel any better about basic fairness and transparency as they compete with these huge and powerful companies,” Mr. Davis said. “The obvious conclusion that these companies constitute monopolies who control online marketplaces and social media platforms is undeniable.”

Mr. Davis said no new legislation is needed and Big Tech consumers must demand that the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission enforce antitrust law.

Several other conservative groups are concerned that the right’s fury at Big Tech was channeled improperly toward support for antitrust enforcement and want to steer it toward different policy goals. More than a dozen conservative groups formed a new “Alliance on Antitrust” to dampen the populist antitrust movement’s momentum.

The alliance’s members include the American Legislative Exchange Council, Citizens Against Government Waste, and FreedomWorks among others.

“Instead of pursuing a light-touch approach to antitrust enforcement, some policymakers from across the ideological spectrum are increasingly agitating to use antitrust law as a political weapon against perceived foes,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union — another alliance member. “The Alliance on Antitrust can play an important role in persuading lawmakers and regulators to avoid pursuits that would harm American economic growth and recovery.”

FreedomWorks senior policy analyst Josh Withrow said in a statement that expanding the scope of antitrust enforcement to include conservative grievances of political bias would open “a Pandora’s box that could have dire consequences throughout our economy.”

Other conservatives are not waiting for legislation, regulation, or new enforcement, and are applying external pressure on individual companies, such as Amazon.

Conservatives whose funding streams have been diminished by AmazonSmile’s reliance on the Southern Poverty Law Center were thrilled to see Rep. Matt Gaetz question Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos over the program.

AmazonSmile allows purchasers of goods on Amazon to make donations to certain charities but prevents several groups from collecting donations because the SPLC has designated them as hateful.

“I’m going to acknowledge this is an imperfect system,” Mr. Bezos said of AmazonSmile’s reliance on the SPLC. “I would love suggestions on better or additional sources for how to …”

“My suggestion is that you divorce from the SPLC,” Mr. Gaetz interjected.

The Alliance Defending Freedom agrees with Mr. Gaetz and hopes Mr. Bezos ends his company’s reliance on the SPLC, which has designated the religious-liberty organization as a hate group over its opposition to homosexuality.

ADF said it does not want policymakers in government to force Amazon’s hand, and has no position on antitrust issues, but wants Amazon to heed the drumbeat of outside pressure.

“Our hope would be that it finally impresses upon Amazon the importance to fix this problem which they’ve now heard about for a very long period of time,” said Jeremy Tedesco, ADF vice president of advocacy. “At some point, they’re going to get the message and make a change.”

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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