The figures recall that the battle in Washington for power by the ruling Silicon Valley titans is hardly one-sided when it comes to political spending. In contrast, the debate in Congress over the revision of U.S. antitrust laws has inspired some complex behind-the-scenes corporate maneuvers, especially as “Big Tech” money becomes increasingly politically toxic. And that has paved the way for politicians like Buck, a free market conservative and member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Google, Facebook and Amazon continue to be some of the top investors in federal lobbying and political campaign donors in the country, disbursing tens of millions of dollars a year, while helping fund lobby shops, law firms, nonprofits for profit and think tanks to defend their side. But corporate rivals, including technology competitors like Microsoft, Epic Games, and media conglomerates that compete with online giants for advertising dollars, also have plenty of resources.
“One of the reasons antitrust technology has drawn so much attention to the hill is that the victims are not only small and medium-sized businesses, workers and consumers, but also other large corporations,” said Sandeep Vaheesan, legal director with antitrust. tank Open Markets Institute. “Some of the victims of these monopolists have real power of pressure, the money to give to political campaigns and [the ability to] to support counter-narratives to challenge the hegemony of the great actors of technology. “
When asked for comment on donations from rivals at major tech companies, Buck’s campaign issued a statement criticizing the article.
“It’s no surprise that Politico (sponsored by Amazon, Google and Facebook) is writing a hit piece on Ken Buck,” said Alexa Vance, Buck’s communications director, who specified that he was speaking as a spokesperson for his campaign. . “It’s true that Rep. Buck’s campaign has received several thousand dollars from conservative ‘anti-big tech’ companies.” We hope they send more. ”
Vance added that since 2008 Politico has received an “undisclosed amount of money in millions of dollars from Amazon, Google and Facebook to sponsor many of Politico’s newsletters. It sounds a lot like a conflict of interest.”
POLITICO spokesman Brad Dayspring responded that a “strong firewall” separates POLITICO’s business and news operations. “Simply put, POLITICO’s sales team has no influence on editorial content and does not share customer information with journalists and editors,” Dayspring said.
Buck has received more than $ 50,000 from corporate rivals from major technology companies and their lobby groups since the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee began its bipartisan investigation into large technology companies in June 2019, according to a POLITICAL analysis of the congressman’s statements to the Federal Electoral Commission.
The money, which accounts for about 12 percent of its global transportation during this period, includes donations from major technology companies Microsoft and Oracle; the smallest tech rival Yelp; AT&T, which has an advertising technology unit; media companies owned by Murdoch News Corp. and Fox Corp .; and News Media Alliance, a trade association representing major news publishers.
Buck was selected as the top Republican on the antitrust subcommittee earlier this year, and was previously heavily involved in the investigation before it ended in October.
Donations to Buck from tech giant rivals surpass what they received from the same companies and their lobbyists House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (DR.I.), or Utah Senator Mike Lee, the top Republican on the Senate antitrust subcommittee on the judiciary. during this same time. (Cicilline does not accept corporate CAP donations, and until recently Lee promoted a skeptical attitude toward changes in antitrust law).
During the House committee’s investigation in 2020, Buck garnered headlines for his growing criticism of big tech companies, which he ridiculed as gigantic abusers. “I think it’s clear that there is abuse in the market and that action needs to be taken,” Buck said during a field hearing in his home state in January 2020.
In the end, Buck refused to subscribe to the final 450-page antitrust report released by Democrats in October, which called for radical changes to the U.S. antitrust law in order to reduce the power of the tech giants. But he released his own “Third Way Report,” which agreed with Democrats that major technology companies operate as monopolists and use their unprecedented power to crush rivals and exploit consumers.
Buck’s report proposed less dramatic antitrust remedies than Democrats said, saying their changes would reduce the power of big tech companies and prevent seismic changes in other parts of the economy.
Meanwhile, Buck was accepting a growing flow of money from the companies ’most important corporate rivals. Since June 2019, for example, Buck has received $ 5,000 from News Corp., which publishes The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, and its chief executive, Rupert Murdoch, is a major antagonist of Google and Facebook. of a front-line Republican ally.
Buck has also received $ 3,000 from Microsoft, a $ 1.84 trillion technology company that has been defending its main technology rivals on policy issues such as how to treat news editors and moderating content; $ 4,500 from Fox Corp of Murdochs; $ 1,000 from Yelp, an online review site that has had a long-standing grudge against Google; $ 6,000 from AT&T, which has competed with Google and Facebook in the digital advertising market; and $ 3,000 from the PAC and lobbyists with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, an antitrust law firm with AT&T, Oracle, Salesforce and Yelp as clients.
Microsoft spokeswoman Kate Frischmann said the company has been contributing to Buck since 2015, long before he became the top Republican on the antitrust subcommittee this year. “He has been an important voice on immigration reform and intellectual property, among other issues,” Frischmann said. Microsoft, a former antitrust defendant, has also held active talks with the antitrust subcommittee on the group’s investigation into Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook.
Buck received another $ 2,500 from Oracle, the leading cloud-based company that has earned a reputation for lobbying, though it can do so against larger tech companies, as well as an additional $ 1,000 from the pressure leader of Oracle, Ken Glueck.
In addition, Buck received a total of $ 6,000 from Joseph Gibson of The Gibson Group, a lobbying practice that has eBay, Epic Games, Microsoft and Spotify as customers. Spotify and Epic Games have sued Apple for their alleged antitrust violations, while eBay is fiercely competing with Amazon as an online retailer.
The telecommunications industry, which has opposed technology companies in several policy areas, including net neutrality, was Buck’s largest bloc of collaborators during the 2020 election cycle, according to a breakdown of the Center for Responsive Politics industry, a nonprofit organization that investigates spending.
The donation pattern offers a rhetorical lifeline to supporters of the big tech giants, allowing them to try to portray the antitrust movement as a product of corporate influence peddling.
“If you scratch the surface of the alleged‘ techlash, ’you will quickly find this kind of inter-company violence,” said Adam Kovacevich, a former Google executive and CEO of the Chamber of Progress technology association, which includes Google, Facebook and Amazon. “Unfortunately, consumer voices are sometimes drowned out by companies trying to cause problems to their competitors or using regulation to improve their balance sheets.”
Buck’s allies, including a coalition of smaller, progressive and populist Republican tech companies, point out that there is a stark difference between accepting cash drops from companies valued at more than $ 1.5 trillion like Amazon and Alphabet. , the parent company of Google, and corporations with a fraction of these. value.
“For more than a decade, Google has propped up groups like the House of Progress and rewarded politicians with millions of campaign contributions as a way to prevent enforcement actions against its abusive monopoly,” Luther Lowe said. , Yelp’s senior vice president of public policy. “Congressman Buck is one of the few brave political leaders who wants to take a stand against these gigantic trillions that try to distort our democracy.”
Buck has received particularly significant contributions from news publishers, some of the most powerful rivals of major technology companies, as he takes a position as the GOP’s leading sponsor of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, HR 1735 (117) this would allow publishers bargain collectively for better financial terms with Google and Facebook. In the first three months of 2021 alone, as he continued to push through legislation, Buck received a total of $ 6,500 from executives from the News Media Alliance, a trade association for news publishers and lobby groups. the Williams & Jensen firm.
“Rep. Buck is doing something very difficult and important: discovering conservative approaches to technological antitrust issues,” said News Alliance President David Chavern, who handed over $ 1,000 to Buck this past quarter in a statement to POLITICAL. “He showed real leadership last year when he wrote ‘The Third Way’ in response to the report of the House’s antitrust subcommittee. Since then, he has shown a constant desire to be obvious when it comes to market impacts. of platform monopolies, and we have been happy to support you with our small contributions. “
Meanwhile, the Colorado lawmaker has also received $ 500 in March from three lobbyists representing major technology companies: Frederick and Jennifer Baird of Off Hill Hill Strategies, which considers Facebook as its largest customer. , as well as Gina Foote of Finsbury Glover Hering, who represents Apple. This is despite the promise Buck made in April to swear big tech money.
But the lobbyists ’contributions are not inconsistent with his promise, in which he said he would stop accepting donations directly from corporate or executive PACs on Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Twitter. His promise did not mention multi-client lobbyists, who often have dozens of customers.
Ultimately, technology rich giants Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple have great power to propel their agenda in Washington as they seek to narrow down policy proposals that change their business. These four major technology companies spent $ 124 million combined on lobbying and campaign contributions during the 2020 election cycle, according to Public Citizen, which downplayed the efforts of companies like News Corp and Yelp.
“I think it’s easy to get distracted by disputes and rivalries between companies,” said Vaheesan, whose group receives funding from foundations and does not accept direct corporate donations. “The key point is that Facebook, Google and Amazon have become so powerful that they’re even squeezing other big companies.”