Tech giants amass army of lobbyists for epic antitrust battle with Washington
Faced with the growing possibility of antitrust actions and legislation to curb their power, four of the biggest technology companies are amassing an army of lobbyists as they prepare for what could be an epic fight over their futures.
Initially slow to develop a presence in Washington, the tech giants — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — have rapidly built themselves into some of the largest players in the influence and access industry as they confront threats from the Trump administration and both parties on Capitol Hill.
Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee announced a broad antitrust investigation into big tech. And the two top federal antitrust agencies — the federal trade commission and the department of justice — agreed to divide oversight over Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google as they explore whether the firms have abused their market power to harm competition and consumers People close to the companies say they’ve long anticipated US probes. And hence, it comes as no surprise that the four companies spent a combined $55 million on lobbying last year, doubling their combined spending of $27.4 million in 2016. Some are spending at a higher rate so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying and political contributions. This puts them on a par with long-established lobbying powerhouses like the defence, automobile and banking industries.
Of the 238 people registered to lobby for the four companies in the first three months of this year — both in-house employees and those on contract from lobbying and law firms — about 75% formerly served in the government or on political campaigns, according to an analysis of lobbying and employment records. Many worked in offices or for officials who could have a hand in deciding the course of the new governmental scrutiny.
The influence campaigns encompass a broad range of activities, including calls on members of Congress, advertising, funding of thinktank research and efforts to get the attention of President Trump, whose on-again, off-again streak of economic populism is of particular concern to the firms. Last month, the industry lobbying group, the Internet Association, which represents Amazon, Facebook and Google, awarded its Internet Freedom Award to Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House senior adviser.
Facebook is paying two lobbyists who worked for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including her former chief of staff, Catlin O’Neill, who now serves as a director of US public policy for the social media company. Pelosi received nearly $43,000 in total donations for her 2018 reelection campaign from employees and political action committees of Facebook, Amazon and Alphabet, Google’s corporate parent. She had been a champion of tech companies. But her support for the industry appeared more tenuous last month, when she said Facebook’s refusal to take down a doctored video of her that made her appear drunk demonstrated how the social network contributed to misinformation and enabled Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Google is paying two contract lobbyists who worked as lawyers on the Republican staff of the House Judiciary Committee. One of the lawyers, Sean McLaughlin, also served as a deputy assistant attorney general under George W Bush.
The Washington office of Amazon, whose chief executive, Jeff Bezos, has drawn regular criticism from Trump, is led by a former FTC official, Brian Huseman. And its roster of outside lobbyists includes three Democratic ex-members of Congress as well as two former justice department lawyers. Amazon also paid $70,000 to the lobbying firm of a top Trump fundraiser, Brian Ballard, to lobby Congress and the administration. .“They are no longer upstarts dipping a toe in lobbying,” said Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of Center for Responsive Politics. “They have both feet in.”
Source: ET Tech