Politico

Turbulence in Texas AG's office to delay Google ad suit


Texas is likely to delay filing a multistate antitrust suit over Google’s control of the advertising technology market amid upheavals in the office related to bribery allegations against Attorney General Ken Paxton, an individual close to the probe said Friday.

Meanwhile, state attorneys general looking into Google’s dominance over online search are aiming to wrap up their work next week with an eye toward filing their own antitrust complaint soon after the Nov. 3 election, three other people close to the investigation said.

The Justice Department and 11 Republican-led states sued Google in D.C. federal court on Tuesday, alleging it has engaged in exclusionary practices to maintain its monopoly in the online search market. The complaint’s main example is the search giant’s use of contracts with mobile device makers and companies like Apple and Mozilla to ensure that its search engine is the default.

Whither the states: A coalition of almost every U.S. state has been probing Google since September 2019. Instead of joining the DOJ’s antitrust complaint, the 37 remaining states said Tuesday they planned to continue their investigation and hoped to reach a decision in the “coming weeks.”

Several state attorneys general, including many Democrats, opposed filing a suit so close to the election. While the states hope to finish by the end of October, any complaint wouldn’t be filed until after Nov. 3, but could come as soon as that week or the week after, the three people said, speaking anonymously to discuss ongoing deliberations.

What’s the matter with Texas: The state took the lead on a probe by 48 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico investigating Google’s conduct in the advertising technology market. But turmoil in Paxton’s office has clouded the probe’s future.

Seven top aides to the Texas AG said in a letter to state officials that they had alerted law enforcement to concerns that Paxton may have violated laws against bribery and improper influence. Their concerns stem from Paxton’s actions related to Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, who donated $25,000 to the attorney general’s 2018 reelection campaign.

Paxton said he would not step down — despite calls by Democratic attorneys general to do so — and accused “rogue employees” of making false accusations.

Paxton’s No. 2, Jeff Mateer, resigned after the allegations became public. Paxton told the Southeast Texas Record that he has placed two of the other employees on leave.

This week, two additional employees were fired, the Texas Tribune and other local news outlets reported, raising new concerns about whether Paxton may have violated state whistleblower laws by improperly terminating them.

The remaining two of the seven whistleblowers — Ryan Bangert and Darren McCarty — have been key players in Texas’ Google probe. McCarty, who worked as a litigation partner at law firm Alston & Bird before joining the attorney general’s office, was expected to head Texas’ trial team in the Google advertising case.

As of Friday, both were still employed by the attorney general office, the individual said.

The Justice Department is separately probing Google’s dominance of the ad markets, and the federal investigation remains ongoing.

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