Seth Bloom wouldn’t call himself a technology geek — he only recently got his first smartphone — but when it comes to antitrust laws, he believes they’re just as relevant for today’s ever-changing tech industry as they were 100 years ago.
Bloom, general counsel to Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, has been a leading force behind the subcommittee chairman’s efforts to curb anticompetitive behavior among some of the biggest names in tech. Last fall, he guided the subcommittee’s probe of AT&T Inc.’s proposed merger with T-Mobile USA, which Kohl opposed. Once federal regulators moved to challenge the $39 billion bid, AT&T abandoned the effort, an outcome that Bloom said was one of the subcommittee’s “singular accomplishments” in recent years.
Robert Porter, chief counsel to Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), the ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, said that while he and Lee didn’t agree with Kohl’s opposition to the merger, he credited Bloom with playing a large role in how it played out. Bloom helped “set the tone and the parameters of the debate over that transaction,” he said.
Bloom delved into the tech world again last year as the subcommittee investigated whether Google Inc. was engaged in anticompetitive behavior. That inquiry spurred an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. Unlike the AT&T merger, which divided the subcommittee along partisan lines, Kohl and Lee penned a joint letter to the FTC in December expressing concern about Google. Bloom said he thinks he’s had a good track record encouraging bipartisanship.
“We plan all our hearings together, we consult on witnesses.…We try to do it in a consensus way,” Bloom said. “Through all this political polarization, we’ve tried to make this a hallmark.” He added that when there’s bipartisan support on an issue, “people listen more.”
While the tech industry has been a major focus, Bloom’s work over the past year ranged from probing the merger of pharmacy benefits managers to pushing to repeal antitrust exemptions for the railroad industry.
After 13 years working for the subcommittee — he became general counsel in 2009 — Bloom said he’s weighing his next steps once Kohl retires at the end of his term. He was under consideration by the White House to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division earlier this year, but the job went to former Arnold & Porter partner William Baer. “This job is the job of my life,” he said. “We’ll have to see where the future leads.” — Zoe Tillman