From left, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), the ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, speaks to reporters about antitrust bills to be introduced at the Capitol, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Tech Industry Groups Push to Stall Antitrust Bills After Record 2020 Donations

in Sludge
on February 22, 2022

On Feb. 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed its second tech antitrust bill in as many months, part of the upper chamber’s efforts to address anti-competitive practices among big technology companies. The bipartisan Open Markets App Act (S. 2710) would focus on companies that run app stores with more than 50 million users in the U.S.—especially Apple and Google—and limit their market power, for example by allowing third-party apps to be installed without needing to use the app store, among other provisions. The bill was recently placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar. 

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced another tech antitrust bill by a vote of 16-6, with all 11 of the panel’s Democrats and five Republicans in favor. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S. 2992), sponsored by Antitrust Subcommittee Chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and full committee ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would curb the practice of large tech companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google favoring their own products on their platforms. 

House Democrats are developing a stronger antitrust package, passing six bills last summer out of the Judiciary Committee, including one, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act (H.R. 3825), by a narrow vote of 21-20. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, would allow federal regulators to sue to break up tech giants that sell their own offerings on a dominant platform they own. Tech industry lobbyists went into what was called a “full-court press” against the package and have kept up efforts this year to block the Senate bills from advancing.

Tech industry observers have noted the considerable bipartisan support for reforms, with conservative senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley voting in favor of the Klobuchar-Grassley bill. But it’s unlikely the Republican leaders of the House or Senate would make antitrust a priority if they retake either chamber in the midterm elections—meaning the calendar for the bills to become law is likely becoming tight. The heads of Apple and Google recently met with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, and retiring Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, reportedly has concerns over privacy issues. 

Big Tech companies that seek to run out the clock on the antitrust bills before the midterm elections have banked goodwill by donating record amounts to Democratic candidates. In the 2020 election cycle, according to analysis by OpenSecrets, contributions from individuals in the internet industry to federal candidates leapt to their highest levels by far at nearly $70 million, with almost $4 million more in PAC money and $27 million in outside spending. The vast majority of contributions to congressional candidates in the 2020 election cycle went to Democrats, at nearly $44 million, OpenSecrets calculated.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announces their new name, Meta, during a virtual event on Oct. 28, 2021. (AP Photo / Eric Risberg)

Overall, contributors from the internet industry—defined by OpenSecrets as the PACs and employees of companies such as Google, Amazon, Tencent, Meta, and Netflix—gave over $2.1 million to the DSCC in the 2020 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets, and over $7.6 million to the Democratic National Committee.

After the election, in direct donations to party committees last year, Google’s PAC contributed $15,000 to each the DCCC on June 30 and the DSCC on July 8 of 2021. Microsoft’s PAC donated $15,000 to the DSCC and the DNC on July 8 and Dec. 31.

As Sludge has reported, last year Amazon vaulted into the top tier of donors to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), the nonprofit affiliated with the Congressional Black Caucus, composed of House and Senate Democrats, giving it $1.7 million. The foundation’s mission includes leadership development and research on issues affecting its communities.

Amazon also donated $700,000 in 2021 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), the nonprofit leadership development group affiliated with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, whose members are all Democrats. It marked a sizable leap in donations to the group, whose website says it is “developing the next generation of Latino leaders,” after Amazon gave $85,000 to the institute in 2018, $115,000 in 2019, and $70,000 in 2020. CHCI’s board of directors has several representatives on it, including Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-Calif.), Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), as well as Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.). 

Microsoft stepped up its contributions to CHCI last year by giving $150,000, after not donating to the institute in 2020 and giving it $30,000 in 2019. Microsoft made no donations to CHCI in 2018, and in 2017 gave it $30,000.

Facebook’s donations to CBCF steadily grew from 2018 to 2020, topping out at over half a million dollars, and its donations to CHCI grew from $70,000 to over $400,000 in total. 

Google has regularly donated as well to the CBCF since 2018, last year giving the foundation a total of $125,000, as well as the CHCI, donating $105,000 in 2021.

Matt Tanielian, co-founder of Franklin Square Group and lobbyist for Amazon Web Services, donated $15,000 to the DSCC on July 29 last year, as did firm partner Josh Ackil. Registered lobbyists for prominent tech companies also donated tens of thousands of dollars to each of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, plus thousands more to Democratic senators, according to a review of FEC data from the nonprofit Code for Democracy.

As the market power of tech giants has come under regulatory scrutiny, tech companies are stepping up their involvement with the lobbying behemoth U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to an item by Axios.

House Democrats from internet-industry-connected California have been part of the forces holding up next steps on the tech antitrust package in the lower chamber, according to a Wall Street Journal report last month.

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