Biden's FTC Adviser Discloses Work for China's ByteDance

July 12, 2023

A high-paid adviser to the Biden administration's Federal Trade Commission disclosed in April that she has also in recent years worked for the Chinese tech giant ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok.

Cristina Caffarra, a European economic expert with Keystone Strategy, was brought in by the FTC as a consultant for an unsuccessful antitrust case against Facebook that was dropped in February. She also served "within the last three years" as an adviser to ByteDance, according to her April 4 disclosure statement to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank for which she spoke on a panel in the spring.

The FTC paid Caffarra's firm $2.7 million last July for a one-year consulting contract that is still ongoing and expires on Friday, according to federal spending records. The FTC did not respond to a request for comment.

Caffarra told the Washington Free Beacon that her work for ByteDance didn't overlap with her work for the FTC. She declined to comment on whether she was hired by ByteDance before or after her consulting work with the agency. Her work from ByteDance also doesn't appear on her official Keystone Strategy biography, which lists several other tech companies with which she has worked.

ByteDance has mounted a massive public influence campaign as it fights against the prospect of American lawmakers banning its subsidiary, TikTok. The Chinese company has hired firms and lobbyists with deep connections to the Biden administration, such as Democratic powerhouse SKDK. Though some states have moved against the Chinese social media platform, TikTok has thus far avoided any concrete federal action.

The disclosure by Caffarra could raise questions about the potential for foreign influence at the FTC, which is heavily reliant on outside advisers. Under FTC chairwoman Lina Khan, the agency has "deployed unpaid consultants and experts at an increasing rate," according to an inspector general report last August, and "lacks an important layer of assurance against potential ethical dilemmas, such as conflicts of interest."

Caffarra said in an article last month that she "had a role advising the FTC in Meta/Within." The FTC brought the case against Meta last July, shortly after inking the multimillion-dollar consulting contract with Caffarra's firm. The FTC objected to Meta's merger with Within Unlimited, a virtual reality gaming company, on the grounds that Meta was trying to monopolize the VR market. ByteDance's subsidiary Pico is a competitor to Meta in the virtual reality industry.

The Chinese government-linked ByteDance is fighting U.S. congressional efforts to ban its subsidiary, TikTok. Lawmakers from both parties have slammed the social media app as a national security risk and criticized its influence on children and its data-collection practices.

In response, ByteDance has ramped up its lobbying efforts, splashing out millions on consultants and lobbyists with ties to the Biden administration and to prominent legislators. Executives at high-powered firms working for TikTok visited the White House at least 40 times as of April, the Free Beacon reported.

The aggressive lobbying campaign has been effective, Reuters reported this week. Democratic senator Mark Warner (Va.), who cosponsored a bill to rein in TikTok, said the social media app's public relations blitz has "slowed a bit of our momentum" on the legislation.

Khan is scheduled on Thursday to testify for the first time before the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers are expected to grill her over the agency's investigation of Twitter under Elon Musk.