Cory Booker, ‘Hipster Antitrust’ Ally, Joins Key Senate Panel

Senator Corey Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), intends to use his new seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee to keep a public spotlight on the effects of corporate concentration across U.S. markets, including the potential impact on workers.

Booker joined the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, along with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). There were two committee vacancies for Democrats coming into the new year. One took the spot of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who resigned last year amid sexual harassment allegations. Democrats also gained a new seat on the committee after Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) won a special election and changed the ratio of Republicans to Democrats in the Senate.

Booker is taking Franken’s spot on the antitrust subcommittee. Franken was vocal on competition issues, especially in the area of media consolidation. He led opposition to deals such as AT&T Inc.’s proposed tie-up with Time Warner Inc. The Justice Department is challenging that merger. Booker has been active in questioning mergers such as the one between Amazon.com Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc.

A Worker’s Economy

“I look forward to using my position on the committee to actively address and check monopoly and monopsony power and shape an economy that is better for workers, better for innovation, and better for our democracy,” Booker said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law.

“Our economy is not working for most Americans, and corporate concentration across sectors — from agriculture to tech to telecom — is one critical reason why,” he said.

Booker has previously criticized antitrust regulators for not doing enough to address the effects of market concentration on American workers. In a Nov. 1 letter, Booker accused the FTC and Justice Department of overlooking how corporate consolidation affects labor markets and wages, saying his office hadn’t identified “any enforcement action” that targeted employers for exercising market power over workers.

Antitrust laws don’t provide a mechanism to address many of Booker’s labor concerns, such as stagnating wages and rising income inequality, FTC’s acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said in a Dec. 1 reply letter.

The views of Booker — considered a possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate — reflect a growing debate over the U.S. antitrust enforcement approach. Some liberal public interest advocates say existing U.S. antitrust rules don’t go far enough. They cite, as one example, the Federal Trade Commission’s speedy approval last year of Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, a blockbuster deal that could upend traditional supermarkets.

Conservatives criticize the call to expand antitrust review. Former Republican FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright refers to the movement as “hipster antitrust.” Like Ohlhausen, Wright said antitrust law isn’t the right vehicle to address broad concerns about wages and workers.

Booker’s new assignment to the Judiciary Committee was welcome news to advocates of expanded antitrust enforcement. “Senator Booker has shown that he’s serious about reforming antitrust policy to take the anti-competitive impact of employer market power seriously, and that’s much needed on the Judiciary Committee,” Marshall Steinbaum, a research director at the Roosevelt Institute, told Bloomberg Law.