A new report from the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project reveals that even Amazon has gotten in on the nepo baby trend: choosing as its champion in the PR fight against a hotly anticipated Federal Trade Commission antitrust suit a legendary name in Beltway conservative lore—Robert Bork.
Of course, Judge Robert Bork—famous for firing the Watergate special prosecutor at the behest of President Richard Nixon as Solicitor General, and for his failed 1987 Supreme Court nomination—died in 2012.
This time around it’s his son, Robert Bork Jr., who according to his LinkedIn has spent the past quarter-century heading various entities bearing the family name: as president of the consulting firm Bork & Associates, of the nonprofit Bork Foundation, and of Bork Publishing, which reprints the elder Bork’s books.
He has also long led the Bork Communication Group, which lists on its website such tech powerhouses as AT&T, Google, and eBay as clients. AT&T and eBay denied to The Daily Beast having any present relationship with the late jurist’s progeny or any of his projects. A spokesperson for Google said it no longer worked with the Bork Group, but did not provide an answer as to whether it had supported his other ventures.
Since 2021, the younger Bork has ridden his father’s reputation to yet another executive role—this one at the Antitrust Education Project, which utilizes the patriarch’s old arguments against compelling large companies to compete with smaller ones to crusade against regulation of the tech sector.
Little public information is as yet available about the Antitrust Education Project. But the Tech Transparency Project report exposed that Amazon has listed the advocacy group among the largest recipients of its financial support in each of the past two years. The corporate reports did not specify the exact figure the commerce giant gave the organization, except that it exceeded $10,000, and Amazon declined to comment for this story. Bork himself did not respond to repeated emails and calls.
The Tech Transparency Project found that Bork Jr.’s lack of legal credentials has not stopped him from assailing actual lawyers who have contested his father’s premises and opinions—particularly, a trio of Biden administration appointees: Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who has spearheaded an antitrust suit against Google that began under the Trump administration; scholar Tim Wu, who served as Special Assistant to the President for Technology and Competition Policy until January; and especially Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan. On Twitter, the Antitrust Education Project lambasted them as “a three-headed monster supporting populist delusions of how economics works.”
The troika are broadly seen as the leaders of the New Brandeis Movement, a school of thought named for the anti-monopoly early-20th-century Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandeis. New Brandeis’ arguments have posed an at-times explicit challenge to Bork Sr.’s assertions that massive market consolidation is fine so long as consumers don’t face higher prices. Khan, in particular, penned an influential Yale Law Journal article in 2017 asserting that the elder Bork’s precepts simply don’t work when dealing with a company like Amazon, whose dominance in e-commerce allows it to warp not just the market but society itself: by pressuring suppliers and delivery companies, refusing to sell certain books and products, and by simply making it impractical for small firms to independently enter the internet shopping space.
And it so happens that Khan’s FTC is expected to soon take legal action aimed at curbing the online giant’s power—and Amazon has become the younger Bork’s financial benefactor.
Bork Jr.’s attacks on Khan began even before her Senate confirmation, slamming her in a June 2021 editorial as a “celebrity scholar recasting antitrust law into a tool to enable government to control capitalism.”
Shortly after Khan assumed her post, Bork Jr. assailed her again in a Wall Street Journal editorial—adorned, of course, with an image of his father—claiming her job would be to “remind [companies] who is boss.”
“Khan has transformed the FTC into a predatory power that enforces nebulous standards, granting her total discretion in choosing whom to persecute,” he complained in the National Review.
Bork 2.0’s attacks on Khan have intensified as the FTC has torqued up its investigations into Amazon’s business practices. In May, the agency and the Justice Department compelled the company to cough up more than $30 million to settle charges it had violated privacy laws. The next month, it filed a complaint accusing the company of having “duped millions of consumers into unknowingly enrolling in Amazon Prime.”
And the agency has taken final steps toward filing an even broader antitrust suit that could even break up the company.
“Lina Khan aims to kill Amazon in its present form,” wailed a headline over a Bork Jr. piece in RealClearMarkets—an article that did not disclose the funding the Antitrust Education Project had gotten from the titular tech giant.
In another Journal piece, Bork Jr. even urged Congress to investigate Khan, claiming she has “crashed into an intricate system with a bulldozer.”
The Tech Transparency Project noted that Amazon’s recruitment of Bork Jr. has come at a time when the company and other online behemoths have become a favorite target for conservatives. The judge’s son has even attacked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) for allegedly supporting “the end of capitalism as we know it” by co-sponsoring a tech regulation bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Bork Jr.’s record of choosing which companies to work for is hardly sterling. An archive of internal tobacco industry documents released as a result of litigation shows that, acting on a tip from one of his father’s ex-aides, he offered his services to cigarette giant R.J. Reynolds in 1996. Bork’s own website bio states his past clients include “former manufacturers of lead pigment.”