EXPOSED: Big Tech Tops Corporate Lobbying Spenders

Public Citizen News

By David Rosen

Facebook and Amazon are now the two biggest corporate lobbying spenders in the country, according to a report Public Citizen.

The report, based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, found that Big Tech has eclipsed two large federal lobbying spenders in recent history: Big Oil and Big Tobacco. Amazon and Facebook spent nearly twice as much as Exxon and Philip Morris on lobbying in 2020.

“We need to rein in Big Tech’s influence in Washington now, so that lawmakers and regulators can break them up, enact comprehensive privacy legislation, and hold these companies accountable for harming our economy and our democracy,” said Jane Chung, Big Tech accountability advocate for Public Citizen.

“The Federal Trade Commission, the Justice Department, and state attorneys general are signaling that justice is finally on its way. But with Big Tech political expenditures at historic levels, it’s more important than ever for lawmakers to show their independence and bring these companies to heel.”

The report followed on the heels of a similar report Public Citizen released in 2019 (focused on the 2018 election cycle) detailing how Big Tech companies have blanketed Capitol Hill with lobbyists and lavished members of Congress with campaign contributions.

Other key findings from the report:

  • During the 2020 cycle, Big Tech companies spent $124 million in lobbying and campaign contributions, breaking its own records from past election cycles. Amazon’s spending increased by 30%, and Facebook’s spending jumped an astounding 56%.
  • Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple together added 40 new lobbyists in the 2020 cycle, up from 293 in 2018 to a new total of 333.
  • Big Tech PACs, lobbyists, and employees contributed at least 33% more in the 2020 cycle than they did in 2018 – an increase of over $4 million, and a total of nearly $16.5 million in contributions. This is the largest cycle-to-cycle increase in contributions from Big Tech since Public Citizen began monitoring the industry in 2010.
  • And among members of Congress with jurisdiction over privacy and antitrust issues, 94% received money from a Big Tech corporate PAC or lobbyist. In 2020 alone, Big Tech PACs and lobbyists contributed more than $3 million to the lawmakers tasked with overseeing and regulating them.

Just hours after the report was released, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), ranking member of the U.S. House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, announced that he would no longer accept campaign donations from Facebook, Google, or Amazon – a victory for Big Tech accountability.

Public Citizen’s report was covered in Politico, The Hill, Bloomberg, Business Insider, and several tech outlets, and it drummed up significant buzz among top journalists, antitrust advocates, and tech influencers active on social media.

The report was released the day before a hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in which several Big Tech CEOs were grilled by lawmakers in both parties for more than five hours. The hearing focused on the role of social media platforms – particularly Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (owned by Google) – in spreading misinformation and harming children. Both Democrats and Republicans on the committee were visibly furious at Big Tech’s abuses of power and vowed to pass legislation confronting them.

“The Big Four have learned to use their concentrated wealth to entrench their economic power through political engagement,” said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president for Public Citizen. “In this moment of enhanced scrutiny, tech companies are going to spend millions and dial through their Rolodexes looking for officials to stop regulation and legislation needed to protect consumers. That is simply unacceptable.”

Public Citizen is calling for Big Tech companies to shut down their political action committees (PACs) immediately, end all super PAC contributions, end all contributions to dark money groups for electioneering, and end all spending to influence elections at the state and local level, and fully disclose how much and to which intermediaries they contribute.

A closely related problem is the revolving door between Big Tech and government. Public Citizen recommends requiring former executives and lobbyists who enter government recuse themselves from official actions that affect former employers for up to two years; prohibit government officials from negotiating future employment with private businesses that are affected by their official actions; and clear all waivers of conflict-of-interest regulations through a single agency – the Office of Government Ethics – and make the request and approval or denial a matter of public record.

Public Citizen also is advocating for a series of lobbying reforms that would expand the number of individuals who count as registered lobbyists and require far greater disclosure of lobbying activities. In addition, Public Citizen is pushing the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to move forward with a rule requiring corporations to disclose their political activity.