House Judiciary Committee Chairman Accuses FTC of Partisan Vendetta Against “Elon Musk’s Twitter”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) came under scrutiny as House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio accused the agency of carrying out a “partisan” vendetta against the new owner of “Elon Musk’s Twitter.”

Jordan alleged that the FTC enforced a fine in 2022 with biased intentions, suggesting that the actions taken were politically motivated. The accusation highlights the ongoing tensions between regulatory bodies and lawmakers, raising questions about the impartiality and fairness of enforcement actions in the digital realm.

The FTC began investigating Twitter in 2019, after the social media platform reported violating its own privacy policies. Twitter paid a $150 million fine to the federal government in 2022. According to Jordan, however, the commission did not intend to enforce a fine against Twitter until Musk became the platform’s largest shareholder in April 2022 and began moving to purchase it outright.

“The Commission took no action against Twitter in 2021,” Jordan noted in a letter to FTC chairwoman Lina Khan. “A close examination of the information provided suggests that there is an unjustified approximate one-year gap in the FTC’s actions with respect to Twitter. A reasonable conclusion is that neither you nor Acting Chair Slaughter seriously planned to take action against Twitter until political pressure arose given Mr. Musk’s impending acquisition.”

The FTC faced heavy lobbying from elected Democrats to investigate Twitter in the wake of Musk’s purchase. President Joe Biden said Musk’s foreign investments were “worth being looked at,” while seven Democratic senators led by Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal called on Khan to “vigorously oversee [the FTC’s] consent decree with Twitter.”

Jordan began investigating the FTC’s oversight of Twitter early in the 118th Congress. A House Judiciary Committee Republican staff report published FTC letters requesting that Twitter provide information about journalists that Musk worked with to produce the Twitter Files reports. The FTC has repeatedly refused to comply with the Judiciary Committee’s subpoenas, Jordan wrote in the letter.

Republicans have repeatedly expressed concern that Khan, a former Columbia University professor, is using the FTC to push a partisan agenda. A proponent of aggressive antitrust enforcement, Khan has requested companies provide information about how mergers might impact ESG goals, unionization, and equity. She has also moved to write and enforce regulations without congressional authorization.

The FTC currently has only three commissioners, despite federal law authorizing it to have five. No more than three FTC commissioners may be of the same party under the FTC Act. Republican commissioners Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson resigned in 2022 and 2023, respectively, after heated disagreements with Khan’s regulatory stance.

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