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Justice Department’s Antitrust Chief Celebrates Merger Stoppages

 |  May 21, 2024

Jonathan Kanter, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, has applauded his agency’s success in halting mergers in concentrated markets.

Speaking at the Anti-Monopoly Summit hosted by the American Economic Liberties Project, Kanter highlighted his department’s vigorous antitrust enforcement, which has disrupted mergers across various industries, including airlines and book publishing, and achieved the first criminal monopolization conviction in decades, reported The Hill.

Kanter emphasized the importance of these actions in counteracting industry concentration and preempting anticompetitive practices. “We took these actions to address the trends toward concentration of industry and put a stop to anticompetitive behavior before it takes hold,” he said. He cited notable interventions in sectors like shipping, construction, piping, and insulation as evidence of the department’s proactive stance.

One of the key victories for the antitrust division under Kanter was the successful prosecution of a criminal monopolization case in 2022. An asphalt contractor pleaded guilty to violating the Sherman Act by proposing a “strategic partnership” to a competitor, aimed at ceasing competition for highway crack-sealing projects and establishing local monopolies. The contractor received a sentence of three years probation, six months of home detention, and a $27,000 fine.

Kanter also pointed out the broader impact of heightened antitrust enforcement, noting that more than 20 mergers have been abandoned in the past two and a half years in response to concerns raised by his division. This deterrence effect, he argued, is a significant achievement in preventing further market concentration.

The intensified antitrust enforcement is part of a larger trend towards stricter commercial regulation across various U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Trade Representative, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This comprehensive crackdown on anticompetitive practices has drawn criticism from the business community, with some merger attorneys accusing regulators of hindering commerce.

Despite this pushback, the drive for tougher antitrust measures has found unexpected bipartisan support. Senator J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) has praised FTC Chair Lina Khan, acknowledging her efforts despite some Republicans viewing her actions as problematic. Similarly, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-Mo.) has initiated an investigation into the funding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reflecting a growing skepticism towards traditional pro-business stances.

Smith expressed his concerns in a May communication to the Chamber, citing “numerous concerns about activities of tax-exempt organizations like yours.” This investigation marks a significant shift in the political landscape, indicating a potential realignment in party alliances as policymakers increasingly scrutinize corporate influence and advocate for stricter antitrust enforcement.

Source: The Hill