How a Tech-Funded Think Tank Influences Global Antitrust Regulators

The long era of restraint in antitrust enforcement in the United States can be traced back, in part, to an ideology that tied economic analysis to legal cases. The view was that it’s not enough for a company to dominate a market and crush competitors, there must be evidence of so-called consumer harm — usually in the form of higher prices. That notion permeated through the American judicial system with the aid of economics seminars for federal judges funded by corporate donors.

The Manne Economics Institute for Federal Judges, which ran from 1976 to 1999, was organized by the Law and Economics Center — now housed at George Mason University’s law school. By 1990, about 40 percent of all sitting federal judges had attended one of these seminars, according to the program’s director.

Researchers found that judges who attended the seminars were more likely to approve mergers, rule against environmental protections and organized labor, and use economic language in rulings compared to judges who did not attend, according to an academic study looking at the effects of the program.

The Global Antitrust Institute, which was established in 2014 as part of George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center, has taken a page from the success of the federal judges program and adapted it for an international audience. It is also starting to offer an economics program for U.S. federal judges, with one scheduled for October in Napa, Calif.

Mr. Wright said it had already trained more than 850 foreign judges and regulators. It has hosted a senior judge at Supreme People’s Court, China’s top judicial body, as well as the current and former superintendent of Brazil’s top competition regulator as “visiting scholars.”

The institute does not disclose the source of its funding, but The New York Times obtained copies of the group’s annual budgets and donation checks in document requests. It is funded almost entirely by companies and foundations affiliated with companies.

Tech companies have been major backers of the institute for several years. In 2017, Google, for example, donated $200,000 to the group and it contributed an additional $300,000 in 2018.