Will Lindsey Graham cave to Klobuchar’s socialist antitrust bill?

Columbia Standard | by Robert H. Bork, Jr. | published July 29, 2022

Sen. Lindsey Graham voted with four Republican colleagues in the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass the Innovation and Choice Online Act – legislation that purports to reign in Big Tech. With the bill likely heading to the Senate floor for approval within days, Graham’s support could lead enough Republicans to help the bill get to President Biden’s desk for signature. ​

This bill, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), would give the Federal Trade Commission expansive powers to regulate large social media companies. Endorsing a vast expansion in government is strange for a conservative. But it is easy to see how Sen. Graham got there. Like millions of Americans, Graham finds that Big Tech’s “efforts to censor conservative content are offensive.” 

Graham, like other conservatives, is so angry about censorship that he is ready to stick it to Big Tech by voting for the Klobuchar bill.

The text of the Klobuchar bill, however, doesn’t touch content moderation. By the admission of Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Trump impeachment manager and the author of the companion bill in the House, this legislation will not touch “content-moderation practices online.” 

If Graham and his fellow Republicans vote for this bill out of spite, they will enable a government power-grab inimical to conservatism. 

Klobuchar’s bill is a power grab because it would subject businesses to “death-penalty fines” of 15 percent of revenues for crossing poorly defined red lines. According to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), the bill “includes language that could catch up a lot of other firms that are nothing like these [social-media] companies . . . potentially treating Kroger, or Piggly Wiggly, or Home Depot with the same kind of antitrust restrictions that we expect on Facebook, Apple, or Google.”

This bill would create so many new mechanisms for government control of business that C-Suite wokeness and ideological intolerance could easily be enforced by Biden’s hyper-aggressive regulators. Far from breaking up Big Tech, the Klobuchar bill would be a shotgun wedding between Big Business and Big Government.

Another Senate Judiciary Republican, Mike Lee (R-UT), said the Klobuchar bill “may actually entrench the very four companies at which it’s aimed, by creating a strong incentive to simply cease doing any business with third parties.” This could happen because Klobuchar’s legislation would force Big Tech companies that do business with third parties, such as Amazon’s marketplace for small sellers, to share access to their operating, hardware, and software systems. “This could crush thousands of small businesses,” Lee added. 

Klobuchar’s bill would also make it illegal to restrict or impede a business user from accessing data on the platform. The practical effect of this data portability would be to force everything Facebook, Amazon, and other tech giants know about American consumers to share with thousands of other companies, some of them foreign.

Where might all that data go? Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) notes that Chinese law obligates companies doing business in China to cooperate with Chinese intelligence services. Alarmed by this critique, Sen. Klobuchar amended her bill to exclude sharing of Americans’ data with China or any other “foreign adversary.” Once Americans’ data is shared by thousands of companies in the digital wild, however, how realistic is it to believe that China will not gain access to it?

It is understandable why conservatives want to lash out at Big Tech censorship. But too many conservatives in Congress have let their anger get the better of them. Conservatives voting for the radical expansion of Big Government and the entrenchment of Big Tech would be the ultimate “own goal” – a self-defeat from which conservativism and the free market may never recover.

ROBERT H. BORK JR. is the president of the Antitrust Education Project