- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Chamber of Commerce is preparing for a court battle with the Biden administration’s antitrust enforcers.

The Chamber wants the Federal Trade Commission to hand over records that reveal how the commission operates and potential political interference in its work.

Chamber officials charge that the FTC operates with secret procedures and secret votes when blocking business mergers and taking other antitrust action.

The business lobby said Wednesday that it is ready to sue in federal court if the FTC does not provide the information the Chamber sought through the Freedom of Information Act.  

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant and Congress enacted FOIA to prohibit agencies like the FTC from operating in the shadows,” wrote the Chamber in its appeal earlier this month. “The FTC’s refusal thus far to comply with that vital transparency statute does a disservice to the public and the rule of law. We trust that you will follow the law and promptly remedy this error.”

The Chamber’s flurry of FOIA requests against the FTC came after the agency revived its antitrust lawsuit against Facebook in August 2021.

Supporters of an antitrust overhaul to rein in companies such as Facebook and Google said the threat of litigation is directly tied to the Chamber’s support of the tech industry. 

The liberal American Economic Liberties Project said the Chamber is doing the bidding of Big Tech.

“Let’s be clear about what this is: A front group controlled by Big Tech CEOs is trying to bully antitrust enforcers. It won’t work,” said Sarah Miller, AELP executive director, in a statement. “This is part of a smear campaign by the Chamber to undermine the FTC, including the commission’s new transparency efforts led by Chair Lina Khan.”

Ms. Miller said it was big tech CEOs seeking to fight against transparency and not the FTC.

The Chamber said the FTC made some of the sought-after information public following its initial requests, but withheld other records, including its procedures manual. The group is concerned with information about the FTC’s voting procedure, especially regarding the counting of “zombie votes” in which a member’s vote on an issue remains active for a time after the member leaves the agency. How long those zombie votes live on is unknown outside the FTC.

The FTC declined to comment for this report.

While the Chamber began last year thinking President Biden could help advance a business-friendly agenda with infrastructure spending and potential immigration overhaul, it ended the year filing dozens of FOIA requests against Mr. Biden’s FTC

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org database, the Chamber’s members, employees, and owners gave more than $23,000 to Mr. Biden during the 2020 election cycle. The Chamber itself did not make a donation to the president.

That the Chamber is now spoiling for a legal fight is a remarkable about-face for the business lobby. Prior to Mr. Biden’s inauguration, the Chamber told The Washington Times that it was hopeful that a closely divided government would help accomplish its agenda.

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

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