REVEALED: A quarter of Federal Trade Commission officials own or trade stocks in the same tech giants they regulate, including Amazon, T-Mobile, Facebook-Meta, Tesla and Google
- FTC officials reported more stock trades than any other agency, WSJ says
- The agency is tasked with regulating business and reviewing antitrust concerns
- But a quarter of top officials own stock in major tech companies, review finds
- FTC and the officials say their trades followed the law and ethics guidelines
Many top officials at the Federal Trade Commission also invest in some of the biggest companies that the agency regulates, according to a new report.
From 2016 to 2021, roughly a third of 90 senior officials FTC owned or traded stock in companies that were undergoing an FTC merger review or investigation.
Additionally, a quarter of the top officials were invested in big tech companies such as Amazon, Alphabet and Meta, even as the sector came under heavy regulatory scrutiny over potential antitrust concerns.
One former FTC chairman, Joseph Simons, owned shares of Microsoft, Oracle and AT&T even while agency investigated the tech and telco sectors, the report said.
The FTC and the officials named in the report said all of their stock trades followed the law, as well as ethics rules for federal employees, and they have not been accused of wrongdoing.
However, the report raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest at the agency, which is charged with protecting American consumers from monopolies, economic cartels, and shady business practices.
Former FTC chairman Joseph Simons owned shares of Microsoft, Oracle and AT&T even while agency investigated the tech and telco sectors
Kent Cooper, a former government official and expert on ethics issues, told the Journal that although the officials’ stock trades are in legal compliance, even the appearance of a conflict ‘hurts the reputation of the agency and the government in general.’
‘Are these decisions being made for the benefit of the public or the officials who have a personal benefit in the outcome?’ he said of the questions the disclosures raise.
The newspaper’s analysis was based on financial disclosure forms of about 12,000 senior career employees, political staff and presidential appointees at 50 agencies.
It found that FTC officials, on average, were more active in trading individuals stocks than any other large agency included in the analysis.
An FTC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from DailyMail.com, but the agency told the Journal that it has a ‘robust ethics program’ and follows the rules set by Congress and the Office of Government Ethics.
Simons, the FTC chairman from 2018 until January 2021, disclosed more than 1,300 trades during his tenure, though less than a dozen were in individual companies, rather than funds.
Simons sold shares of AT&T, Charter Communications, and Oracle during his time as chair, but held on to a stake in Microsoft, which increased 140 percent in value over his tenure.
Randolph Tritell, who recently retired as head of the FTC’s Office of International Affairs, reported more stock trades than any other FTC official in the review
FTC Chairman Joe Simons (left) and FTC Associate Director of Enforcement Division James Kohm appear during a 2019 news conference to announce that Facebook has agreed to settle allegations it mishandled user privacy
Randolph Tritell, who recently retired as head of the FTC’s Office of International Affairs, reported more stock trades than any other FTC official in the review.
Since 2016, he reported more than three dozen trades in shares of Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle.
In one case, Tritell saw an 80 percent gain in his Amazon shares over nine months, due to well-timed trades, as the European Commission investigated whether the company violated antitrust rules.
Tritell said that his financial advisor handles his stock trades, and that he rarely provides any input.
Abbott Lipsky was named acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition in February 2017 and later that year reported owning nearly 90 individual stocks, some of which were in a family trust.
In May 2017, Lipsky reported buying between $1,001 and $15,000 in JPMorgan Chase, adding to holdings in the company that he already owned, disclosures showed.
Just seven weeks later, on June 29, FTC antitrust regulators cleared an acquisition involving JPMorgan.
Federal ethics rules contain exemptions that allow the trading of individual stocks, and the FTC officials say that all of their trades followed guidelines.
Abbott Lipsky was named acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition in February 2017 and later that year reported owning nearly 90 individual stocks
An investment of up to $15,000 in an individual stock, or $50,000 an industry-specific mutual fund or ETF, isn’t deemed a conflict of interest under federal regulations.
The report comes as stock trading by members of Congress and their immediate family members comes under renewed scrutiny by ethics experts.
In July, some stock trades executed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, drew attention when he sold his shares of chipmaker Nvidia days before the House was expected to consider a massive stimulus bill to boost the US semiconductor industry.
Paul Pelosi sold 25,000 shares of Nvidia for about $4.1 million, suffering a loss of $341,365, according to financial reports.
Democrats have proposed legislation to regulate stock trades by members of Congress, but Republicans and even some Democrats say the measures do not go far enough to prevent conflicts of interest.
Democrats on the House Administration Committee released a framework for stock-trading legislation last month, but it is unlikely to be brought to a vote before the midterm elections next month.