Republican senators are aiming to stop the Federal Trade Commission's Democratic chairwoman, Lina Khan, from using the votes of departed commissioners to move her agenda forward.
Six Republican senators, led by Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, introduced legislation last week that would invalidate dozens of email votes left behind by Democrat Rohit Chopra when he left the agency in October.
The trade commission's current rules allow Chopra's votes to be used for up to 60 days after his departure, thereby allowing Democrats at the agency, led by Khan, to use his critical vote to maintain a majority regarding votes on policy statements, investigations, and rule-makings.
No Democratic senators have thus far supported the FTC Integrity Act, which Republicans introduced, creating a partisan split on this issue, Senate staffers familiar with the issue told the Washington Examiner.
“It seems like common sense, but once a term has expired, commissioners should no longer be able to cast a vote on an issue before the Federal Trade Commission," Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
"However, we have seen a strange phenomenon where an outgoing commissioner cast proxy votes on future issues that came before the Commission after his term has expired. This makes no sense. We don’t allow judges to rule on future decisions after they have left the bench, and we should not allow FTC commissioners to pre-cast their votes,” she added.
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The Democrats at the trade commission used one of Chopra's email votes on Oct. 25 to issue a new policy statement restricting some mergers, which the FTC's two Republican commissioners, Christine Wilson and Noah Phillips, criticized, calling the tactic used by Chopra and Khan a "zombie vote."
Chopra cast 20 email votes on his final day at the commission regarding pending motions before the FTC, according to a Politico report in November.
According to the trade commission's current interpretation of agency rules, any of the five commissioners can introduce a motion for a vote, but the motion fails after 30 days if no one has responded.
However, if another commissioner seconds it, the motion can live on for another 30 days, which allows the votes of commissioners who have left the commission to remain active up to 60 days after their departure.
“Your last day in office is the last day your vote should count — whether you serve on the school board or the FTC,” Moran said in a statement. “It’s absurd that votes cast by commissioners on outstanding issues can be counted up to 60 days past their departure. This needs to stop to protect the integrity of the commission and because it’s just plain common sense.”
The trade commission is currently split 2-2 between Republicans and Democrats since Chopra left the agency in October to become the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Without the use of the "zombie votes," Khan's agenda to overhaul antitrust enforcement in a more expansive, liberal direction could have been hurt.
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Top House Republicans blasted Khan's agenda at the trade commission in July, criticizing her and Democrats for unfairly consolidating agency power, expanding regulatory authority in a partisan manner, and abandoning bipartisan transparency processes.