By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the Federal Trade Commission that accuses it of unlawfully withholding public records.
The Chamber, which speaks for U.S. businesses, has been critical of the FTC under Chair Lina Khan, who has support among progressive Democrats.
“In the last two years, the Commission has embarked on a series of unlawful and self-aggrandizing actions — often in secret. The Chamber has been trying since last year to obtain public records relating to the Commission’s actions, yet has been rebuffed,” the complaint said.
The FTC declined to comment.
The complaint focuses on the FTC’s allowance of what the Chamber called “zombie” votes by departing Commissioner Rohit Chopra, its collaboration with Europe on a probe of the merger of biotech companies Illumina and Grail, and the work that Khan did for Chopra before she became the chair.
The Chamber complained in December that the FTC had denied requests for information about its procedures, and said it was considering “legal options.”
In a court filing, the Chamber said it wanted to compel compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests for public records having to do with “zombie” votes, or those cast by Chopra. The Chamber said the votes were counted after he left.
Many had to do with votes that Chopra cast between Sept. 30 and Oct 8. Chopra was confirmed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Oct. 1 but remained at the FTC until Oct 8.
The group also had requested records about the FTC’s communications with foreign jurisdictions about the merger of Illumina and Grail.
“The Chamber has also become aware of situations in which the Commission may have relied upon a foreign government authority to collaborate to strong-arm American corporations into dropping a planned transaction,” the complaint said.
The FTC filed a lawsuit in March 2021 seeking to stop Illumina’s $7.1 billion deal to buy its former subsidiary Grail, arguing that the deal would slow innovation for tests designed to detect multiple kinds of cancer. The vote to sue was unanimous.
Despite the challenge, Illumina closed the deal in August 2021 but said it would hold Grail as a separate company with regard to the European review.
Illumina this week lost its challenge in Europe’s second-highest court against the European Union having scrutiny over its takeover of Grail, which does no business in Europe.
The Chamber also wanted to know about Khan’s work for Chopra as a “legal fellow” at the FTC when he was a commissioner. “The position of ‘Legal Fellow’ is highly unusual and not a typical title used in relationship to staff positions in support of a commissioner,” the complaint said.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Nandita Bose and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)