A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jan 23, 2020

Big Tech Companies Spent A Record Amount In 2019 Washington Lobbying

Despite public calls for regulation of AI and other feel-good public relations gestures, the big tech companies are using their power and financial resources to assure that their dominance is not challenged in any way. JL

Cat Zakrzewski reports in the Washington Post:

These increases are part of a decade-long trend, during which major tech companies spent  half a billion in lobbying. Amazon, Google and Facebook made the majority of that spending as companies fight regulatory battles on multiple fronts with fallout from 2016 election interference on their platforms, high-profile privacy mishaps and investigations into their size and power. They're leveraging their deep pockets to ensure lawmakers don’t hamper the status quo. This has already been successful
Amazon, Facebook and Apple spent record-high amounts on lobbying the federal government in 2019, according to companies’ required filings to the government late last night. 
Their spending highlights the tech giants’ efforts to exert their influence in Washington amid heightened antitrust and privacy scrutiny of the industry last year. 
  • Social networking titan Facebook spent $16.71 million, up 32 percent from the previous year.
  • Amazon spent a total of $16.1 million, up about 13 percent from 2018. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post). 
  • Smartphone maker Apple spent $7.35 million, a 10 percent year over year increase. 
These increases are part of a broader decade-long trend, during which seven major technology companies spent nearly half a billion in lobbying, according to analysis by my colleague Tony Romm. Amazon, Google and Facebook made up the majority of that spending.  
Companies that once resisted the role of engaging with Washington are now among some of the top spenders in the Capitol, Tony notes. He compiled data on companies' spending in previous years from the The Center for Responsive Politics.
The eye-popping sums come as companies fight regulatory battles on multiple fronts. They're grappling with fallout from 2016 election interference on their platforms, many high-profile privacy mishaps and investigations into their size and power. 
And they're now leveraging their deep pockets to ensure lawmakers don’t respond with stringent regulations that could hamper the status quo. This tactic has already been successful, per Tony. “There’s no question the folks making out in the current system, who have a real advantage … they’re going to work hard to preserve that because they’re making a huge amount of money,” Rep. David N. Cicilline, who chairs the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, told Tony. The Rhode Island Democrat is anticipating an all-out lobbying push as he helms an investigation in the tech industry’s power. 
As tech companies' businesses extends into smart home tech, autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, the lobbying expenditures shed some light on just how vast their political challenges are.
Facebook, in the fourth quarter of 2019 for instance, was lobbying on encryption, terrorism, competition, blockchain policy and high-skilled immigration, among other issues. Amazon in the same quarter addressed issues including facial recognition technology, Internet of Things security and postal rate reform. 
Amazon is “focused on ensuring we are advocating on issues that are important to our customers, our employees and policymakers,” spokeswoman Jill Kerr told Tony. Other companies in his analysis, including Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Uber, declined his requests for comment.
Some tech observers noted that the lobbying disclosures are not comprehensive of all the ways the tech industry may be trying to sway the political debate. From Luther Lowe, the senior vice president of public policy at Yelp, a company that has challenged Google on antitrust grounds:To be sure, not all the tech giants hit historic lobbying levels last year. Google -- the top tech lobbying spender in the last decade -- was an outlier, cutting back amid a broader reset of its Washington operations. The company and subsidiaries including the self-driving car unit Waymo spent $12.76 million, about a 41 percent decline from the previous year.
And Microsoft -- which has largely evaded the regulatory glare on issues including antitrust -- spent $10.23 million, a slight rise over last year but still less than the Washington state titan spent in 2013.


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