BOVARD: Rep. Ken Buck Should Lead House Republicans Against Big Tech

(Photo by Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)

Rachel Bovard Contributor
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Republicans have always recognized the threat of concentrated governmental power. But some Republicans are starting to wake up to the threat of concentrated corporate power – especially the power accumulated by the Big Tech companies.

Few Republicans understand this better than Republican Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, who is best positioned to lead House Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee as they address Big Tech in the coming Congress.

Over the course of the past year and a half, the House antitrust subcommittee dove deep into the practices and processes of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook. While this work was led by a Democratic chairman, its effort was bipartisan. Both Republicans and Democrats engaged in the work of unraveling complex mergers, acquisitions and practices.

The antitrust subcommittee held seven hearings, one of which I testified at, and reviewed thousands of pages of documents, all in an effort to understand how federal government policies related to antitrust enforcement – or lack thereof – contributed to the biggest accumulation of private power the world has seen in at least a century. Republicans were very much led in this effort by Rep. Buck.

Buck approached the subcommittee’s investigation with an open mind. “Big is not bad,” he told me an interview over the summer, “I do not believe that because a company has been very successful that it should be punished or singled out in any way.”

But he is appropriately skeptical of some of the more dubious practices engaged in by the biggest companies in America, preferring to rely on his experience as prosecutor and let the evidence inform his opinion, rather than settling on a predetermined conclusion.

Buck engaged the work of the subcommittee, showing up to each hearing, including one held in January in his home state. There, at the University of Colorado, he and other subcommittee members heard testimony from the small businesses bullied, battered and otherwise throttled by the business practices of the Big Tech giants. “I think it’s clear there’s abuse in the marketplace and a need for action,” Buck told  the Washington Post.

In closing the investigation this autumn, Buck noted that the subcommittee’s work had been bipartisan, collegial and cooperative — a refreshing pocket of collaboration in an otherwise extremely partisan year. While he parted ways with his Democratic colleagues on some of their proposed solutions, he issued his own conclusions on the subcommittee’s work, co-signed by three of his Republican colleagues.

In issuing this report, Buck has emerged as one of the Republican Party’s most thoughtful leaders on how conservatives should approach the growing threat of corporate tech power. While Buck represents an appreciation for business – particularly small business, as the backbone of the American economy – he is realistic about the threats mega-corporations can pose to both small competitors and the opportunities for innovation.

“This country is based on small business creation and development,” he said, “and if we at any point in time . . . allow large companies to suppress or disincentivize that sector of the economy, we will not grow.”

Perhaps because of his clear-eyed view of market dynamics, Buck recognizes that antitrust enforcement is a defensive weapon against corporate market distortion, but one whose application has been stifled. His report includes the keen observation that existing antitrust enforcement agencies have hobbled themselves “by adhering to a narrow web of jurisprudence instead of following the letter of the law, as Congress intended.”

Indeed, where many Republicans cling to the reflexive ideology that antitrust is “bad for business,” Buck recognizes the fact that antitrust is, quite simply, law enforcement. A free market remains so only with the vigilant policing that our laws both encourage and allow. Willful ignorance of market distortions where they may exist isn’t protecting free market capitalism; it is providing antitrust amnesty to the world’s biggest companies.

Moreover, as Democrats continue to agitate for further censorship action and control over social media platforms, a refusal of Republicans to engage with targeted and specific antitrust enforcement, where it may be warranted, will only encourage heavy-handed Democrat proposals for a permanent and aggressive regulatory infrastructure – something Republicans across the board oppose.

This power of Big Tech has only continued to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic and been weaponized in unprecedented ways during the 2020 election. Big Tech’s unmatched corporate control over free markets and free minds is one that Congress can no longer ignore. As House Republicans gear up to take on Big Tech in the coming year, Rep. Ken Buck is the party’s best choice to lead Republicans into the fray.

Rachel Bovard is a senior adviser to the Internet Accountability Project. She is a former top policy aide to Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Rand Paul.