The Revolving Door Project is investigating the frequency with which government officials at the antitrust enforcement agencies revolve out to BigLaw firms and other entities those same agencies oversee in merger and acquisition cases. Previously, we wrote about a Freedom of Information Act request covering FTC Bureau of Competition lawyers who left the agency between 2014 and mid-2019, elucidating a pattern of FTC lawyers leaving government service for partnerships at BigLaw firms. Notably, Public Citizen found in 2019 that over the past two decades, 31 of 41 top FTC officials either left the agency to serve corporate interests or joined the agency after serving corporate interests (or both).
Our latest update, using information from recent FOIA requests, covers departures from both the Bureau of Competition and the Bureau of Economics spanning from 2014 to April of 2020. The Revolving Door Project’s investigation shows that corporate gigs continue to be the most popular positions for FTC lawyers to take after leaving their posts, and reveals the regularity with which economists and analysts revolve to economic consulting firms that serve corporate interests.
Bureau of Competition
In our analysis of the Bureau of Competition officials (which includes those counted in our previous report), we included employees that worked at various ranks of attorney and director, and excluded paralegals, analysts and interns. Of those 92 employees, we tracked down 81 individuals using publicly available information such as LinkedIn pages and professional biographies. Of those 81 individuals, we found that 41 worked for BigLaw firms following their departures from the FTC, representing over half of the known employees.
The 41 includes former Bureau of Competition director D. Bruce Hoffman, who left the FTC in 2019 and joined Cleary Gottlieb’s antitrust practice as a partner. Cleary Gottlieb partner (and former Bureau of Competition deputy director) George Cary boasted that Hoffman has “an impressive resume of success in both the public and private sectors” that will allow Clearly to “continue to provide the highest quality advice to our clients.” The firm advised on several recent major antitrust cases, including United Technologies Corporation’s merger with Raytheon and T-Mobile’s mega-acquisition of Sprint.
Other recent departures since August 2019 include Chuck Loughlin, a former chief trial counsel who joined Hogan Lovells as a partner in the Antitrust, Competition and Economic Regulation group; Sophia Vandergrift, a former Mergers IV attorney that now works as a special counsel for Sullivan & Cromwell; and Eric James Olson, former Mergers III attorney who became an associate at Morrison & Foerster.
Another 11 individuals left to counsel large acquisition-fueled corporations, with Big Tech companies leading the charge. Amazon hired both former Mergers I attorney Amy Posner (now a senior corporate counsel) and former Mergers IV attorney Elisa Perlman, the company’s corporate counsel for litigation and regulatory matters. Fellow tech giant Facebook hired the Bureau of Competition’s Anticompetitive Practices assistant director Barabara Blank in April of 2020. The Revolving Door Project wrote last month about Blank’s strategic hire as Facebook faces investigations by the FTC and criticism of the company’s monopolist practices.
The Revolving Door Project marked 8 of the departed employees as retired. These employees worked for multiple decades– some for up to 40 years– for the FTC, defining what a career position in government ought to look like. The most recent retiree from late 2019, Marian Bruno, started as an attorney in 1990. Over the years, Bruno won several professional awards and was promoted to Assistant Director of multiple Bureau of Competition offices. Ultimately, Bruno became Deputy Director of Management and Operations. Bruno represents a contingent of truly “career” public officials who retire after decades of service, the ones who have the sort of “careers” we believe “career employees” ought to seek. However, our observation of the FTC indicates that decades of service followed by an actual retirement is a relatively uncommon path for FTC lawyers.
Counting up the employees that revolved to BigLaw firms and large corporations, a total of 52 out of the 73 employees we tracked down found to still be in the workforce revolved out to positions at firms that the FTC either regularly argues against or oversees through antitrust enforcement. This represents a majority of the employees, even counting those we could not track down; clearly, these professional moves call into question the incentives of FTC officials as they oversee merger proposals, investigations and other enforcement.
Bureau of Economics
In our investigation of the Bureau of Economics, we observed professional moves made by directors, economists, and analysts after departing the Bureau, excluding assistants and interns. Of those 49 employees that left between April 2014 and April 2020, we were able to find information on 32 of those individuals.
Five of the 32 employees left the FTC for positions at economic consulting firms, firms which BigLaw firms frequently pay big bucks to testify on behalf of merger investigations. Nicholas D. Hill worked as an economist both for the FTC and the DOJ Antitrust section, but left government service in 2017 to become a partner at Bates White, one of the aforementioned economic consulting firms. Bates White also hired Laura Kmitch, a Bureau of Economics financial analyst, as a manager for the firm in 2017. Another economist, Steven Tenn, left the FTC in 2015 to become a Vice President of Charles River Associates. Two other economists joined economic consulting company Compass Lexecon over the years: David Meyer in 2018 and Dan O’Brien, who also consulted for Bates White following his 2016 departure from the FTC.
While the share of Bureau of Economics employees revolving out to corporate-side gigs is outweighed by those leaving for academica (11 employees) or other government positions (7 employees), economic consulting companies are clearly a well-trodden path for the economists and analysts leaving the FTC for more prestige and higher salaries. Joshua Wright, a former FTC commissioner, served the FTC a total of four times, and his top appointment was preceded by three years as a senior consultant at Charles River Associates.
Economic consulting gigs are not the only path for Bureau of Economics employees; Amazon recently hired Antara Dutta, a former antitrust economist who began working for the ecommerce Goliath as a principal economist in April of 2020. She joined former FTC economist Joseph Breedlove, who is also a principal economist at Amazon. Along with Elisa Perlman and Amy Posner, Amazon’s three recent hires from the FTC clearly indicate a strategic response to increased scrutiny for anti-competitive practices.
The frequency of BigLaw, economic consulting firms, and large corporations poaching government employees is concerning for consumers. Government officials who are ostensibly carrying out enforcement in the public interest are surrounded by a culture that rewards revolving between government and private practice. While these officials may not be directly making decisions to benefit potential future employers, even the most dedicated public servant may see the path to success in the world of antitrust relies on corporate ties.