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Democratic senators seek antitrust review of the PGA Tour's merger with LIV Golf

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden also told the Justice Department that the deal would help Saudi Arabia "sportswash" its record on human rights.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a Senate hearing on April 19, 2023.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrote a letter with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asking the Justice Department to look into the proposed agreement.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call via AP file

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden are asking the Justice Department to “closely scrutinize” the PGA Tour's planned merger with Saudi-backed LIV Golf, saying in a letter Tuesday that the deal raises antitrust concerns and would help the Middle Eastern country "'sportswash' its egregious human rights record."

The letter, addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Jonathan Kanter, the Justice Department’s antitrust chief, argues that the deal violates U.S. antitrust law and says it “appears to have a substantial adverse impact on competition” and “would result in a monopoly” on golf operations in the U.S. "regardless of whether the deal is structured as a merger or some sort of joint venture."

The deal would also make the PGA Tour complicit “in the Saudi regime’s latest attempt to sanitize” its human rights abuses and deserves “serious and urgent attention” from regulators, wrote Warren, of Massachusetts, and Wyden, of Oregon. Those abuses include "routinely harassing and harshly prosecuting individuals for peaceful expression or association; executing individuals (including children) for robbery and drug-related crimes after rigged trials, increasingly including through mass executions; and directing the extrajudicial murder of U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi," their letter said.  

“We urge the DOJ and the Antitrust Division to allocate sufficient resources to closely scrutinize the proposed deal,” they wrote.

Dustin Johnson of the United States plays from the first tee during the first round of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational at the Centurion Club in St. Albans, England, on June 9, 2022.
Dustin Johnson at the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational in St. Albans, England, last June.Alastair Grant / AP file

A spokesperson for the PGA Tour did not address the senators' human rights concerns in a statement to NBC News but disputed the characterization of the deal as a merger despite the proposed combining of assets from the two entities, as well as Europe's DP World Tour.

“We are confident that once Congress learns more about how the PGA Tour will lead this new venture, they will understand the opportunities it creates for our players, our communities, and our sport while protecting the American institution of golf,” the spokesperson said.

The PGA Tour, the U.S.’s leading professional golf tour, and Saudi-funded LIV Golf announced their controversial plans to merge on June 6, prompting bipartisan concern.

On Monday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., demanded records from PGA Tour officials outlining the work leading up to the planned merger with LIV Golf. Blumenthal, who chairs the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said in a letter to the PGA Tour's commissioner that he was concerned about "the risks posed by a foreign government entity assuming control over a cherished American institution.”

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, meanwhile, recently tweeted that the deal allows Saudi Arabia to purchase "a one-world golf government."

9/11 Families United, a group representing the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, also slammed the merger, citing Saudi Arabia’s alleged complicity in the attacks.

Critics say that the deal is Saudi Arabia's latest attempt to influence U.S. institutions, including through universities and films, and that it helps the country skirt accountability for its pattern of alleged human rights abuses.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.