NEW Profile: Conservative Ken Buck defies GOP leadership in charge against Big Tech
Story on the Washington Examiner website here: Conservative Ken Buck defies GOP leadership in charge against Big Tech
Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado has transformed himself from a free-market evangelist to a crusader against tech monopolies.
Buck, the top Republican on the powerful House antitrust subcommittee, has played a key role in forging a bipartisan agreement in Congress that would rein in Big Tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple.
A staunch conservative and ally of former President Donald Trump, Buck has become known for being fiercely independent and single-minded when it comes to tackling the tech giants, even if it means taking on prominent members of his own party, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his political “hero” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
“Ken has been a leader on tech, and he’s doing it with significant opposition from leaders in his own party. I admire someone who has that kind of courage,” said Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the liberal chairman of the House antitrust panel who has worked with Buck for the past two years on legislation to crack down on Big Tech.
Buck and Cicilline passed six sweeping anti-monopoly bills through the House Judiciary Committee in June after investigating the issue for 17 months. The bills, aimed at limiting the economic power of the tech giants by expanding the capabilities of antitrust law, are expected to be brought to the House floor later this year by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Many Republicans, including McCarthy and Jordan, oppose the bills, arguing they fail to address their claims of censorship of conservatives online.
Nevertheless, Buck is highly regarded and trusted in the GOP as a bellwether for the party's attitudes toward Silicon Valley.
“The Republican Party is far more populist and less neo-libertarian than 2010, and Ken Buck’s political pathway traces that broader trajectory, particularly in terms of the government taking on Big Tech,” said Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a fellow member of the House antitrust panel.
Buck is one of the most conservative members in the Republican conference, Gaetz noted, and he often gets frustrated by the need to compromise on bills and fall in line with party leadership.
On the issue of tech monopoly power and the need for increased competition, though, Buck has been willing to compromise and bring party leaders along to pass “once in a generation legislation,” Gaetz said.
Even liberals give credit to Buck for understanding his party well and using it to his advantage when it comes to holding Big Tech accountable.
“Buck has a better understanding of how the Republican Party is shifting, tapping into the anti-monopoly populist zeitgeist much better than Jim Jordan, who is a symbol of the fading libertarian wing of the party,” said Hal Singer, an antitrust economist and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, who regularly works with Democrats on tech-related legislation.
“The monopoly-loving, pro-corporate facet of the party had a stranglehold over it for decades, but now that is changing, thanks in part to Trump and others. Buck has astutely picked the right side of the fight and has read the tea leaves of the party,” Singer said.
Buck said he has been fortunate to be in a position of power at the right moment.
“My trajectory, a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time,” Buck told the Washington Examiner. "Because of opportunities given to me on the antitrust subcommittee, I’m trying to take advantage of that to help. But also because God is good."
He said that unlike many other members of Congress, including many Republicans who have been censored by social media giants such as Facebook and YouTube, he had no personal issues or grudges with the tech companies.
The need to check Big Tech became apparent, Buck said, during a 2020 congressional hearing in Boulder that examined Amazon’s arm-twisting of a local gadget company to lower its prices. At that moment, he took a new interest in anti-monopoly legislation.
He said he is primarily focused on building his legacy by reducing unfair monopolistic behavior and increasing competition in the tech industry to help small businesses and consumers.
"I think that a lot of people have benefited from Amazon during the pandemic, but I think it would serve the public even better if there were four or five Amazons who were competing for the ability to serve customers,” said Buck.
Buck, 62, has been a prosecutor for the federal government, a district attorney in Colorado, and a business executive before becoming a congressman in 2014. He ran an outsider campaign for Senate in 2010 at the height of the Tea Party and lost narrowly to Democrat Michael Bennet. In 2017, Buck authored the book Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption is Worse Than You Think.
Buck said Trump should get credit for moving the Republican Party in a more populist fashion and helping “connect the dots” between issues with the tech industry and how they affect the middle class.
“Tech is just one of those issues where we have a huge amount of wealth that is concentrated in small areas with a few people in control. And I think that it's clear that the dispersion of that wealth through competition will be very positive,” Buck said.
Buck faces opposition within the GOP, which has been skeptical of government efforts to regulate big businesses for generations. Most Republicans want to hold Big Tech companies accountable for anti-competitive behavior and ensure conservatives are not censored on social media. Still, many are not in favor of using antitrust laws to do so, which is what the six bipartisan House bills Buck has championed aim to do.
“The Democrats and Republicans like Ken want to restructure how Big Tech makes decisions by completely changing the antitrust laws, 200 years of our judicial history. It’s not inherently evil, but just mistaken,” said Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who is also on the House antitrust panel.
Issa said the six antitrust bills expected to arrive on the House floor later this year are poorly crafted, would stifle innovation, and restrict consumer choices.
He said one of the reasons Buck has successfully worked with Democrats on tech-related legislation is his ability to do what he thinks is right, even if that means opposing his own party.
"He's a free spirit,” Issa said.
Republicans who know him well say Buck’s health challenges, including his bout with cancer in 2013, have given him a perspective on legislation that goes beyond the daily news cycle.
“If we pass these tech bills, there will be generational impact. And I think he's willing to work harder on longer-term projects that take years, having stared death in the face,” Gaetz said.
Buck is also known for his fierce loyalty — not just to causes and ideas he believes in but also to friends and family.
”Ken came up to me on one of my toughest days in Congress, amidst all my recent criticism, and said to me, ‘You know, they say that in politics, if you need a friend, get a dog. Well, I'll be your dog. You can call me anytime’“ Gaetz said.
Buck said this to Gaetz shortly after news broke of federal investigators looking into whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old, which he has denied.