AG Ken Paxton’s antitrust lawsuit against Google could harm Texans, group of state leaders say

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — During a one-on-one interview with KXAN earlier this month, indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, now the subject of an FBI investigation into allegations of bribery and misuse of office, was asked why the public should trust him as the state’s top law enforcement official.

“Look at what we’re doing with Google,” Paxton explained, when listing his accomplishments.

Paxton was referring to an antitrust lawsuit against Google that his office has been preparing for more than a year. Texas joined the Trump administration’s antitrust lawsuit against Google in October.

Texas AG Ken Paxton discusses an investigation into Google in Washington D.C. Sept. 9, 2019 (KXAN/Kate Winkle)

In an open letter sent to the Dept. of Justice on Tuesday, a group of Texas leaders, including former members of Congress, academic leaders, mayors, and a former state supreme court justice, criticized the use of antitrust laws against Google and warned of the potential harm the effort could cause Texans.

More than 200,000 Texans are employed by the technology industry, according to the Texas Economic Development Corporation.

The authors of the letter believe Paxton’s antitrust lawsuit against Google could damage the state’s relationship with technology companies that have made the Lone Star State a second home.

“Despite the important ecosystem that makes Texas an information technology powerhouse, the industry is under fire from certain groups in Austin and Washington, D.C. with what appears to be misguided antitrust pursuits that could have a serious impact on our state and its economy,” the letter reads.

The antitrust lawsuit against Google claims that the tech giant holds a monopoly over search and advertising on the internet, which Google’s parent company, Alphabet, denies.

The letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General William Barr was signed by:

  • Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former mayor of San Antonio
  • Tom Loeffler, a former member of Congress and former University of Texas Board of Regents chairman
  • Steve Bartlett, a former member of Congress and former mayor of Dallas
  • John Montford, former member of the Texas Senate and former Texas Tech University chancellor
  • Henry Bonilla, a former member of Congress
  • Craig Enoch, former associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court
  • Dan Branch, a former member of Texas House and former candidate for Texas Attorney General

More than 1,500 Texans are employed by Google, according to metrics provided by the company. The company claims to have provided $26 billion of economic activity in the state in 2019.

Google offices in Austin, Texas (KXAN)

Michael Davis, an economist and professor at Southern Methodist University, said there are competitive issues within the technology industry and it’s incumbent on policymakers to appropriately regulate these companies.

He said, however, that antitrust laws used to break up the oil, steel, and telecom industries no longer work to governor the digital age.

“Now we have a capital structure that’s made up of people’s brains,” Davis said. “I think this letter echoed the idea that we can’t regulate these new-style information industries with old-fashioned antitrust law.”

Paxton’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment for this story. Google declined to comment.

Dan Branch, a former member of the Texas House, said Texas policymakers have an opportunity to reform antitrust laws to fit technology companies in the 21st century.

Branch, a Republican, lost to Paxton in the primary runoff for attorney general in 2014. He said he has concerns about censorship and free speech within the tech industry, but added that the antitrust lawsuit is a different issue.

“We’re known as a business-friendly state, that’s part of our moniker,” Branch said. “We shouldn’t be out leading the charge on litigation, we ought to be leading the charge on thoughtful reform.”

Branch said he did not have a financial incentive to sign onto the letter, and was assured that his co-authors didn’t, either.

KXAN politics reporter John Engel will have a full report tonight at 6 p.m.

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