Amazon is poaching a slew of staffers from the Federal Trade Commission as it gears up for an epic antitrust battle with the US agency, sources told On The Money.
The Seattle-based web giant – which most is facing accusations it’s been strong-arming third-party sellers into using its logistics network – has already hired around a dozen former FTC officials, sources close to the situation said.
“If you’re preparing for war, hiring people who used to work for the opposing army is a good way to gather intelligence,” Jeff Hauser, founder of the Revolving Door Project, told On The Money.
Some of the officials Amazon poached include former FTC attorney Brian Huseman who manages Amazon’s policy shop, former FTC attorney in the Competition Bureau Amy Posner who is senior corporate counsel, and former FTC attorney Sean Pugh who is now a senior manager in public policy.
On the one hand, insiders say Amazon’s hiring spree has been made easier by FTC Chair Lina Khan.
As previously reported by The Post, there has been a mass exodus of disgruntled staffers who allege she is a “tyrant” with an “abusive” management style.
These people add that Khan — a 34-year-old legal prodigy who wrote her dissertation on antitrust concerns around Amazon — has disregarded many of the career staffers and spent much less time meeting with them than previous FTC chairs.
Indeed, while it’s common practice for “industries that feel besieged to hire out of agencies,” staffers who feel unappreciated by the current regime are much more likely to leave, according to William Kovacic, a professor at George Washington University who served as FTC chairman from 2008 to 2009.
“If people are displeased with leadership, it makes you more inclined to listen to offers,” Kovacic said, adding that Khan has done nothing to make FTC employees feel valued.
“The message to staffers has been you’ve done a terrible job,” Kovacic said.
Nevertheless, Amazon’s sheer volume of hiring also shows how seriously it’s taking the threats from the FTC. The agency has already slapped Amazon with three lawsuits and is expected to bring an antitrust suit aiming to break up the company in a matter of weeks, according to a Bloomberg report.
“The FTC is threatening to break Amazon up: that gets their attention and they’re going to spend what it takes,” Kovacic said. “This doesn’t mean they’ll win, but it’s the difference between reading a guidebook of Manhattan and getting insight from an insider telling you where to eat and what to order on the menu.”
Indeed, what Amazon is paying for is insight into the inner workings and internal politics at the FTC, the former regulator added.
“Even if I tell you nothing about a lawsuit, I can give you insight into key players, who is making decisions, the mood of the agency, prevailing attitude of enforcement, overall sense of how stretched an agency is in using resources, and many people they can deploy on a given matter,” Kovacic said.
“That’s a know-how that’s only learned by being there and that’s very valuable to a company.”
Revolving Door Project’s Hauser, meanwhile, believes that the FTC has become “a beaten down institution.”
“It’s attracted people who are ok with a meek consumer regulator,” Hauser said. “It gives you insight into how many people at the FTC don’t share Chair Lina Khan’s zeal for implementing the law.”
Last week, the FTC sued Amazon over claims it “duped millions of consumers into unknowingly enrolling in Amazon Prime.”
The suit also alleges the company knowingly made it difficult for consumers to cancel subscriptions after they enrolled.
But the worst is likely to come as the FTC gears up for its antitrust suit.
Some speculate the agency will seek to force a spinoff of the lucrative Amazon Web Services unit, or divesting its logistic business, or even unwind big acquisitions like MGM and Whole Foods.
To be sure, there are laws preventing someone working on an FTC case against Amazon from jumping directly to the tech giant – employees working on the case must take garden leave.
Other former FTC staff who have jumped to Amazon include former senior attorney at the FTC Andi Arias, who is now corporate counsel; former legal expert in the Bureau of Competition Meghan Iorianni, who is now senior policy counsel; former FTC attorney Brian Berggren who is now corporate counsel; and former attorney in the Bureau of Competition Elisa Kantor Perelman who is now senior corporate counsel.
Others recent Amazon hires include the FTC’s former antitrust attorney Stelios Xenakis who is now corporate counsel; former FTC attorney advisor Pallavi Guniganti, who is now public policy senior manager; and former attorney in anticompetitive practices Aaron Ross who is now corporate counsel.
Former FTC economist Joseph Breedlove is now senior manager of economist, litigation and regulatory affairs at Amazon.
Former FTC staffer Natasha Sivananjaiah is now corporate counsel.
Former law clerk Scott Fitzgerald is now senior corporate counsel in litigation and regulatory issues at Amazon.
Amazon declined to comment.
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