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One Tech-Funded University Helped Shape FTC’s Hands-Off Approach

A staffing pipeline from George Mason University’s law school to the agency infused it with skepticism toward regulation.

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Illustrations: Arne Bellstorf for Bloomberg Businessweek

The Tech Transparency Project (TTP), a watchdog group in Washington, details in a new report an unusually close relationship between the law school at Virginia’s George Mason University and the Federal Trade Commission. By helping shape the workforce of the FTC, the group claims, the school infused it with a laissez-faire philosophy favorable to the school’s tech donors.

The report throws a harsh light on the FTC’s hands-off approach to tech companies over the past decade. As the agency prepares to argue the lawsuit against Facebook Inc. that it filed late last year, seeking to break up the social media giant, it must contend with an inconvenient fact: It approved Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014—the very mergers it now seeks to undo. The FTC’s consent to those deals is cited by critics as evidence of a permissive attitude that allowed tech companies to grow into leviathans.