UNITED STATES – FEBRUARY 28: Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., walks down the House steps after the last votes of the week on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020.
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The chief of staff to the new top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust lobbied on behalf of Amazon and Apple as recently as 2022, including on the very issues the ranking member will oversee in his new role, CNBC found based on public disclosures.
The background of California Democrat Lou Correa’s top staffer is likely to further upset progressives who supported efforts to reform the rules of the road around digital competition. René Muñoz has served as chief of staff to Correa since November 2022, according to Congress tracking site LegiStorm.
Before that, Muñoz worked at the lobbying firm Federal Street Strategies beginning in May 2020, according to LinkedIn, where his clients included Amazon and Apple, along with other corporations. Earlier, he worked for other Democratic representatives in Congress.
In 2019, when the Democrats were in the majority, Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline spearheaded a major investigation into the competition practices of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, and hauled their CEOs before Congress. He introduced a package of bills to limit their power. Correa voted against the legislation.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., later became the top Republican on the subcommittee and was a significant ally to Cicilline in championing the tech antitrust bills. However, once Republicans took control of the House, Buck was passed over and libertarian Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., was chosen to lead the committee.
The tech industry is likely to cheer the shift from antitrust reform advocates like Cicilline and Buck as a reprieve from years of fighting against bills they saw as overly broad or having undue consequences on consumer privacy.
Demand Progress communications director Maria Langholz called Correa’s elevation to the role “a profound disappointment,” in a statement after his selection was announced, citing his opposition to a package of tech antitrust bills championed by Cicilline, who recently left Congress and vacated the spot.
It’s “embarrassing that House Democrats failed to step up and fill the void that was left by Rep. Cicilline’s departure from the subcommittee,” added the progressive advocacy group’s spokesperson.
“The Congressman’s Chief of Staff has spent nearly two decades in public service, most of which being spent in the halls of Congress,” a Correa spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC on which Muñoz was copied.
“He’s fought tirelessly to serve elected representatives from every corner of the country in their missions to uplift their constituents, and better the lives of every working family. It’s because of that unwavering commitment and history of service that Congressman Correa brought him aboard his team — to work by his side in his fight for the hard-working taxpayers he represents right here in Orange County,” the statement said.
Public disclosures show that as recently as 2022, Muñoz lobbied Congress on the very areas which Correa is now overseeing.
Correa’s ability to influence the agenda while in the minority is limited, but ranking members can often serve an important role in pushing back on the majority or in messaging to industry and agencies. Some fear that should the Democrats take back the House, it will now be harder to replace Correa with a more reform-minded Democrat.
The disclosures do not indicate which specific bills Muñoz lobbied on. However, in filings across multiple quarters, he is listed as one of three lobbyists for Federal Street Strategies who worked on issue areas related to several of the bills that passed through the House Judiciary Committee while Cicilline led the antitrust subcommittee.
For example, in the second and third quarters of 2021, Muñoz is listed as one of three lobbyists who engaged with Congress on behalf of Apple in areas related to the six bills that made up Cicilline’s cornerstone package on tech antitrust. That includes the period right around the time that package passed through the House Judiciary Committee in June 2021.
Among the bills in the package were the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, which could lead to a breakup of dominant online platforms by prohibiting them from owning business lines that present a conflict of interest.
They also included the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, which would prohibit top platforms from favoring their own products over rivals’ in their marketplaces or discriminating against competitors. It was the precursor to a Senate version of the bill that gained steam last year by passing out of the Judiciary committee in that chamber. But it ultimately failed to reach the floor after significant tech lobbying.
Again, it’s unclear from the filing which exact bills Muñoz lobbied on.
The tech industry and its trade groups have spent millions on lobbying, including against antitrust bills that would restrict key elements of their business models. Apple notably ramped up its overall lobbying spending in 2022, reaching $9.4 million, a 44% increase compared to the prior year. Its fourth-quarter filing showed it lobbied on antitrust bills as well as online privacy issues, taxes, semiconductor policy and more.
Amazon spent the most of the tech giants in 2022, coming in at $19.7 million. The e-commerce giant also lobbied on tech antitrust as well as issues around cloud computing and counterfeit goods.
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