Senators urge FTC to scrutinize Activision Blizzard deal

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other Democratic senators think Bobby Kotick might be getting off too lightly.

Four Democratic senators are asking the Federal Trade Commission to closely review the terms of Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

This news comes from The Wall Street Journal, who reviewed a letter sent by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I.,Vt.), Cory Booker (D., N.J.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) to FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan. 

The letter doesn't explicitly call for the FTC to oppose the deal, but it makes clear that the four senators are unhappy with the notion of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick escaping accountability for his alleged part (and apparent participation) in enabling the company's alleged culture of sexual harassment, abuse, and toxicity

“This lack of accountability, despite shareholders, employees, and the public calling for Kotick to be held responsible for the culture he created, would be an unacceptable result of the proposed Microsoft acquisition," the letter apparently states.

The Senators go on to argue that if the FTC determines that the terms of the acquisition could "worsen the negotiating position between workers and companies," than it should intervene.

This letter follows the approval of an $18 million settlement between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Activision Blizzard by a federal judge. Critics of that settlement worried that employees who took part in it might not be able to participate in the State of California's lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, either to share their stories or gain any damages that might ensue. 

It's surreal to realize that prominent political figures like Senators Warren, Sanders, and Booker have opinions about how Bobby Kotick has managed the Activision Blizzard fallout. But will their letter have any impact on the FTC's review of Microsoft's impending acquisition?

The answer to that question is unclear. The FTC does seem to be interested in blunting the impact of tech conglomeration, but a world of video game acquisitions and robust competition from Sony, Nintendo, and other platform-holders may be enough to let the deal sail through.

But this wouldn't be the first time the video game industry has shrugged off "concerns" from Democratic congresspeople. Last summer, Senator Ed Markey (D., Mass.), and House Representatives Lori Trahan (D., Mass.), and Kathy Castor (D., Mass.) sent a letter to publishers raising concerns about exploitative loot boxes. Not much came out of that particular moment. 

Update: An Activision Blizzard spokesperson provided the following comment in response to this story:

“On Tuesday, the federal court approved a settlement agreement between Activision Blizzard and the EEOC that includes an $18M fund to compensate eligible claimants and to bolster enhancements to policies, practices, and training to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace, among other commitments. The company is committed to a safe and equitable working environment for all employees and has invested significant resources to ensure we’re creating a model for the industry." 

"The transaction between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard will not interrupt any of the actions the Activision Blizzard’s leadership team has implemented throughout 2021 and is continuing to implement in 2022 with regards to improving our workplace." 

"Activision Blizzard’s leadership team has discussed the company’s goals at length with Microsoft, and Microsoft has reviewed the renewed culture commitment and actions Activision Blizzard have done so far, and the efforts they´ve undertaken. Microsoft is supportive of the goals and the work being done." 

"This is a compelling transaction for all stakeholders, including employees. No additional special compensation arrangements for Mr. Kotick were entered into in connection with the transaction."

"Mr. Kotick’s base salary has been reduced to California’s minimum annual salary (which is approximately $62,500 for 2022), and he will not be awarded any bonuses or equity grants until the Workplace Responsibility Committee of the Activision Blizzard Board of Directors has determined that Activision Blizzard has made appropriate progress toward achievement of the transformational gender-related goals and other commitments described in such announcement.”

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