Democratic Congressman Ami Bera (Calif.) is celebrating the fact that Amazon, Facebook, Google and other tech companies have formed a new industry trade group, under the leadership of a former Google lobbyist, to advocate for policies that will come before him in the U.S. House.
In a press release announcing the companies’ new group, the Chamber of Progress, Bera is quoted: “New Democrats are excited to work with the Chamber of Progress in defining the next chapter of tech policy.” Bera is the vice chair for outreach of the New Democrat Coalition, an influential bloc of 94 moderate House Democrats that was formed in the mid-90s in an effort to shift the Democratic party away from populist, left-wing policies and toward a more business-friendly, Clintonian agenda. It’s unusual for an elected representative to give an industry lobbying group a quote to use for its launch press materials.
Bera is a member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which has jurisdiction over the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy that advises the president on tech policy. He’s also a member of the committee’s 7-person Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee that has special investigative authority over all the technology and science issues covered by the committee.
The Chamber of Progress has deep ties to the New Democrat Coalition. It was founded by Adam Kovacevich, a former Democratic staffer who worked for the founding chairman of the coalition, Cal Dooley, and was a founding staff member of the coalition in the 90’s. Kovacevich also worked for Sen. Joe Lieberman, another early New Democrat.
Kovacevich worked on government affairs for Google for more than a decade, and from 2010 until 2013, a period when the company was facing a Federal Trade Commission investigation on its anticompetitive practices, he was in charge of competition and antitrust policy for the company.
In 2011, as the Federal Trade Commission was beginning its investigation, Kovacevich worked behind the scenes with officials from George Mason University’s Law and Economic Center to get key FTC staffers and congressional aides to attend a conference at the school on internet search and advertising law, according to emails published by the Washington Post. During that period, Google made $762,000 in donations to the Law and Economics Center, which then issued numerous papers making the case that Google had not violated the law, according to a report from Salon.
Among the issues Chamber of Progress intends to engage Congress on is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a safe harbor provision that shields tech companies from being held liable for content that is posted on their platforms by their users. The section of law states, in part, that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
The group’s first action, according to its launch press release, will be to support passage of voting access legislation in Congress. Anti-monopoly group the American Economic Liberties Project’s executive director Sarah Miller slammed the group as cynically supporting voting legislation to ingratiate itself among Democrats. “Union busters who facilitated a right-wing attack on the U.S. Capitol want progress for their own power and profit – nothing more,” Miller said. “They’ve long co-opted social justice language to camouflage their intentions and this is yet another example of it.”
Congressional Democrats already have deep ties to the tech giants. A 2019 Sludge investigation found that Facebook had hired dozens of lobbyists who had worked in Democratic congressional offices, including for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Bera has received PAC donations from multiple Chamber of Progress member companies, including from Google NetPAC ($10,000 since 2013) and Amazon PAC ($6,500 since 2013). The New Democrat Coalition also has a PAC that has received maxed out donations from Amazon and Google’s PACs in each of the last three election cycles.