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Global Public Policy

Updates from Washington, D.C.

July 26, 2019

Justice Department expands antitrust review of Amazon and others

This week the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would expand government scrutiny of certain dominate tech companies by opening a broad antitrust investigation into whether market-leading online platforms have engaged in behavior that has reduced competition, stifled innovation or otherwise harmed consumers. Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Google are reportedly the targets of this latest review.

Prior to this announcement, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which shares antitrust review with the DOJ, had been looking into potential anti-competitive activity by Amazon with a focus on the pricing structure of Amazon’s logistics service, whether Amazon competes against its own sellers and how Amazon Prime bundles services. According to the press release issued by the DOJ, the Antitrust Division will be “seeking information from the public, including industry participants who have direct insight into competition in online platforms, as well as others.”

According to a quote published in The Wall Street Journal, an official from the DOJ said “there is no defined end-goal yet for the Big Tech review other than to understand whether there are antitrust problems that need addressing, but a range of options are on the table.” The inquiry could eventually lead to more focused investigations of specific company conduct. Congressional committees are also looking into anti-competitive conduct in the tech sector. 

Administration releases new EB-5 regulations

The Department of Homeland Security released updated regulations for the EB-5 visa program, which allows foreign investors to obtain green cards by investing in domestic businesses that employ U.S. workers. Originally created in 1990, the new regulations increase the threshold of investment from an EB-5 visa seeker to $1.8 million, and for Targeted Employment Areas (TEA) the new required investment amount is $900,000. Additionally, the regulations call for the investment amounts to be indexed for inflation every five years. The job creation threshold remains the same. The new investment levels go into effect on November 21, 2019.

The regulations also give the authority to determine TEAs to the Department of Homeland Security, removing that authority from the states. This change is the result of criticism aimed at certain previously determined TEA zones.

Senator Elizabeth Warren leads effort to restrict private equity investment in retail

After widely reported concerns about the role of private equity firms and the impact of certain retail bankruptcies and store closures on employees and surrounding communities, a group of Congressional members have introduced the “Stop Wall Street Looting Act of 2019” to require private equity firms to have more “skin in the game” related to certain transactions. Sen. Warren's legislation would make buyout funds liable for leveraged financing and pension obligations, rework bankruptcy rules, change the tax treatment of carried interest and limit interest deductibility. The press release that accompanied the introduction of the new legislation specifically refers to the Shopko closure but would also likely applied to the bankruptcies and reorganizations of Toys R Us and Payless.

Jennifer Platt

Vice President, Federal Operations