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The Latest: Antitrust Remains in Political Crosshairs for 2018 Midterm Elections

WHAT HAPPENED:

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) gave a speech at the Open Markets Institute on December 6 entitled “Three Ways to Remake the American Economy for All”, in which she repeatedly positioned antitrust policy as a tool to rebalance competition between “big, powerful corporations” and “just about everyone else.”

  • Senator Warren spoke critically about recent antitrust enforcement and advocated three steps for improving antitrust enforcement: (1) block mergers that choke-off competition; (2) crack down on anticompetitive conduct; and (3) get all government agencies to defend competition.

  • On mergers, Senator Warren asserted that “settlement agreements that allowed bad mergers if the companies promised to take actions” have not worked out because “those expertly crafted provisions have been epic failures” and that “[s]tudies show that those settlement conditions often fail to bring about the cost savings and other benefits giant corporations promised.”

  • She advocated that to improve antitrust enforcement “we need to demand a new breed of antitrust enforcers … Enforcers who will turn down papier-mache settlement agreements and actually take cases to court.”

  • Senator Warren stated that increased enforcement is needed not just for horizontal mergers between direct competitors, but also for vertical mergers (e.g., between customers/suppliers). In her view, the “Chicago School party line” that vertical mergers do not harm competition may be accepted theory, but is “not often the reality” when large companies are involved.

  • On anticompetitive conduct, Senator Warren singled out no-poach agreements as an area for increased enforcement—specifically franchises that do not allow an employee of one franchisee to be hired by another franchisee.

  • On getting other agencies to defend competition, Senator Warren noted that while not enforcers like DOJ, other government agencies like the Defense Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Federal Communications Commission, can significantly impact competition through regulation and purchasing.

  • Finally, Senator Warren highlighted several consolidated industries that she views as significantly concentrated for which she would like to see increased antitrust focus including: airlines, banking, healthcare, pharma, agriculture, telecom and tech.

WHAT THIS MEANS:

  • Senator Warren’s theme that antitrust can be used to protect small businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, workers and just about everyone else from the “rich and powerful” shows that increasing antitrust enforcement has become a key party line for the upcoming midterm elections.

  • Additionally, Senator Warren stated that “[t]he individuals who lead the [FTC and DOJ] determine the federal government’s competition priorities,” and have a significant impact on antitrust enforcement by deciding which cases to open or take to court. Given these statements and that several high-profile mergers will be decided before the midterms, we expect that Senator Warren will continue to highlight the potential impact of high-profile mergers on small business and individuals.

© 2019 McDermott Will & Emery

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

Ashley McMahon, Mc Dermott Law Firm, Antitrust and Regulatory Attorney
Associate

Ashley (Lee) McMahon focuses her practice on regulatory and antitrust matters.

Lee also maintains an active pro bono practice and assisted in winning political asylum for a client. As a law clerk for the Parole Division of the DC Public Defender Service, she represented clients before the US Parole Commission at probable cause, short-term intervention for success (SIS) and final revocation hearings, and won release for clients.

Lee spent nearly four years as a paralegal before law school, where she provided assistance...

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Gregory E. Heltzer, Mergers and Acquisitions Lawyer, Antitrust Attorney, McDermott Will Emery, Law Firm
Partner

Gregory E. Heltzer is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm's Washington, D.C., office.  He focuses his practice on defending mergers and acquisitions before the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice, state antitrust authorities and foreign competition authorities.  In addition, his practice also includes complex antitrust litigation, government investigations and antitrust counseling (e.g., advising agricultural cooperatives on the requirements of the Capper Volstead Act).

Greg has experience in all three branches of government. Prior to joining the Firm, he served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable John A. Terry of the DC Court of Appeals. Before entering law school, Greg worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency in the Energy Star Program. He also served as a legislative intern on the staff of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works under the late Senator John Chafee (R-RI).

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