FTC nominee Melissa Holyoak traded chummy emails with Google-backed firm that ‘advocates abolishing antitrust rules’

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By Dan Sears

Emails obtained by The Post reveal Federal Trade Commission nominee Melissa Holyoak’s chummy rapport with ex-colleagues at a Google-funded think tank – including one who wrote of the FTC that “burning it to the ground is too good for it.”

Holyoak, the Republican solicitor general of Utah, previously spent five years as an attorney for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The think tank “advocates abolishing antitrust law” and has drawn funding in recent years from the likes of Google, Meta and Amazon, according to public disclosures.

“She chose to work there for several years, and she kept up warm relations with them,” an industry source who requested anonymity to discuss the situation told The Post. “How are you positioned that way if you aren’t incredibly hostile to the existence and role of the FTC?”

The newly revealed emails stretch from July 2021 through December 2022 and showed a friendly relationship between Holyoak, CEI boss Kent Lassman and other top officials at the think tank.

Holyoak exchanged legal advice on notable cases – including the Apple v. Epic Games antitrust battle — and fielded requests to appear at CEI events.

As The Post reported, Holyoak’s FTC bid has recently faced scrutiny after she played a key role in negotiating the terms of Google’s $700 million settlement with US states over anticompetitive Android app store practices — a deal widely panned as overly lenient to the search giant.

Melissa Holyoak’s ties to a think tank that opposes antitrust law have drawn scrutiny. Office of the Attorney General Utah

In one email thread from Dec. 7, 2021, Lassman told Jessica Melugin, CEI’s top expert on tech-related antitrust cases, to send Holyoak “anything you wrote on the Apple/Epic imbroglio” because Holyoak “wants to know how you approached the question of market definition.”

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In the same email, Lassman tried to enlist Holyoak in an effort to dissolve the FTC entirely.

“Let me know when you and the good people of Utah are ready to help me overturn Humphreys Executer and subsequently go after the Federal Trade Commission Act for repeal,” Lassman wrote. “The place is horrible and burning it to the ground is too good for it.”

Melugin responded by sending Holyoak links to her work disputing Epic’s legal arguments – including a Bloomberg column in which she argued that Epic’s lawsuits against Google and Apple “could harm consumers” and a separate CEI blog post in which she defended Apple’s app store practices.

CEI boss Kent Lassman is pictured. Gage Skidmore

Holyoak thanked Melugin for her insight. The emails did not show whether she responded to Lassman’s “burning it to the ground” quip.

Holyoak defended her record in a statement to The Post — asserting that she has “held Big Tech accountable, leading Utah’s work in lawsuits against Google, Facebook, and most recently, TikTok” as Utah’s solicitor general.

“Understanding opposing views on these issues—including the Google and Apple app stores—was helpful when I took opposite positions from CEI in both the Epic v. Apple amicus and the Google litigation,” Holyoak said in a statement. “I believe it’s critical to understand all sides of the issues to best represent the interests of Utah and its citizens.”

When contacted about the emails, the CEI’s Lassman said the think tank “often interacts with policymakers both in public and privately in the course of our work to eliminate harmful bureaucratic controls.”

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“General Holyoak’s work history shows a wide array of experiences. She always brings an open mind to new questions and sharp insight to the matter at hand,” Lassman added.

Melissa Holyoak is nominated for one of two vacant GOP seats on the FTC. AP

In May 2022, a CEI official invited Holyoak to serve as a keynote speaker at the think-tank’s policy summit in Santa Fe. Holyoak accepted the same day and exchanged a number of follow-up emails to plan out her appearance.

In an email dated Oct. 13, 2022, Lassman introduced Holyoak to Josh Wright – himself a former FTC commissioner and legal scholar who served on Google’s legal team ahead of the landmark antitrust trial targeting its search business. Google cut ties with Wright after multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him surfaced last August.

“My purpose tonight is to make sure that the two of you can talk about these interesting legal and policy issues,” Lassman wrote.

When questioned by lawmakers about her dealings with Wright during the Senate panel’s hearing on her candidacy, Holyoak acknowledged speaking to him about “his experience” at the FTC both before and after her nomination, but said she had not spoken to him since learning of the allegations.

In an email exchange on Dec. 7, 2022, CEI general counsel Dan Greenberg emailed Holyoak asking for advice on the firm’s handling of Moore v. US, a case challenging the federal “mandatory repatriation tax” that reached the Supreme Court.

Melissa Holyoak is solicitor general of Utah. Utah Attorney General’s Office

As The Post previously reported in June, insiders feared Holyoak lacked the necessary antitrust bona fides – and fretted that FTC chief Lina Khan would “run circles” around her on enforcement.

Holyoak’s past work with CEI previously drew scrutiny last July, when a group of conservative groups, including the Bull Moose Project, urged Senate Republicans in an open letter to reject her bid over alleged Big Tech ties that “make her wholly unsuitable for the position.”

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The groups asserted that Holyoak has “objected to dozens of class action settlements involving Google and other companies” during her career and actively worked to “frustrate any attempts to put limits on their market power.”

Holyoak’s candidacy also faced opposition from a group of 17 progressive groups who highlighted concerns about her work with CEI, Bloomberg reported.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s website notes that it “advocates abolishing antitrust law.” cei.org

Meanwhile, Holyoak has described the Google settlement she helped to negotiate as a “tremendous win for consumers.”

In a statement submitted ahead of her Senate hearing last September, Holyoak also noted she supervised Utah’s participation in other antitrust suits involving Google and Meta.

Despite the lingering concerns, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously voted to advance both Holyoak and fellow GOP nominee Andrew Ferguson last October.

Confirmations to the vacant FTC seats depend on a final vote by the full Senate, which has yet to occur.

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