School : But did you go to Congressman Buck after that and tell him…
Cicillin: Yeah, like, “Ken, they asked me to convict you.” By the way, I had a lot of conversations with him about LGBTQ equality. We didn’t agree on almost anything else. But we found this antitrust problem, and we were completely aligned. He understands the danger of monopoly power in this space and so do I, even though we joked about a lot of other issues – you know, I couldn’t get him to think about supporting gun safety legislation or equality law.
I just understood that it was an issue where we had a real consensus, and we stayed focused and produced very good results.
School : I refer to one of those outcomes, the Merger Fee Modernization Act. It may be one of those bills that seems inconsequential, but now that it’s in place it could actually be extremely consequential. How do you see that?
Cicillin: A big win as it reset expectations on mergers. He increased the cost to filers so that the people proposing these mergers would bear the cost. This has provided substantial new resources to antitrust authorities, which is really essential if we are to succeed.
Even though we have a good competition policy, our agencies and the Department of Justice must have the resources to litigate these cases because they come up against companies that have almost unlimited resources to defeat these actions.
School : Do you think you underestimated the power of tech companies getting into the process?
Cicillin: I do not think so We did. Maybe others have. But I think the more we studied and worked during the 16 months of investigation, the more we realized that these were companies that were going to fight tooth and nail against any reform that would restore competition in the digital market. They benefited immensely from being monopolies and having virtually no competition – crushing competitors, buying out competitors, excluding competitors from their platforms. And so we knew they had billions and billions and billions of reasons to try to stop one of these reforms.
They marched around Capitol Hill with their army of lobbyists saying, “No investigation will be launched.” And then when it was launched, they said, “No investigation report will be made.” And then when we finished our report, they said, “No invoice will be filed.” And we filed them, and they said, “No markup will happen.” And after they marked up, they said, “We’re going to kill the bills in markup; they won’t come out,” and then we took them off the committee.
So every step of the way, they underestimated us. We always understood what we were up against.
There has been this battle since our founding between democracy and monopoly, and this is only the most recent version of it. One of the greatest dangers of monopolies is that they have an outsized voice in our democracy.
School : Maybe that kind of lobbying hasn’t been persuasive for you and Congressman Buck, but do you think other members have been hesitant to legislate because of it?
Cicillin: We had wide support in the Democratic caucus and a lot of support in the Republican caucus. There were only a handful of Democrats in the House who expressed reservations or opposition to the bills — some of them because they represented districts where some of these tech companies had a heavy presence. But it was only a handful. So they haven’t had much success in stopping Democrats from supporting the bills.