Cronyism? Watchdog group alleges FTC gave special treatment to former employers

Cronyism? Watchdog group alleges FTC gave special treatment to former employers

  • March 11, 2023

A government ethics watchdog group is raising questions about preferential treatment inside the Federal Trade Commission after obtaining internal communications exposing contacts it claims  “reveal an unusually close relationship” between top officials and their former employers.

FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan worked as a policy analyst at the progressive New America think tank’s Open Markets program before going on to help launch the influential Open Markets Institute (OMI), where she served as legal director from 2017-2018. Khan’s former FTC chief of staff, Jen Howard, previously served as communications director at left-wing media reform advocacy group Free Press.

Government ethics watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) says that internal FTC emails it has obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) leave “the appearance of preferential access” to the officials.

PPT Director Michael Chamberlain said the exchanges smacked of giving insiders preferential treatment and raised questions about the objectivity of the FTC leadership.

“At a time when the FTC has aggressively turned its focus on industries struggling to deal with supply chain and inflation issues — issues arguably related to the government’s policy agenda — one would expect an increased diligence to curate a reputation of objectivity and propriety,” Chamberlain said. “These records tell a different story.”

Chamberlain said the unearthed communications “raise deep concerns over the independence of the FTC’s most powerful decision makers” and directly challenge the Biden White House claim to be “the most ethical [administration] in history” because they show “if you have a connection to the top, the Commission will bend over backwards to ensure your voice is heard over the thousands of others attempting to weigh in.”

“Reaching out directly to senior leadership raises concerns under federal ethics regulations prohibiting officials from providing preferential treatment to any organization or creating an appearance of impropriety,” PPT said in a separate statement.

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