Big Tech Has a Message for Schumer: We Come Bearing Gifts




  • In World
  • 2022-08-18 13:00:00Z
  • By Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer decides whether to hold a vote on legislation aimed at forcing more competition on big tech firms, he's become the beneficiary of a wave of personal donations from lobbyists for the internet giants.

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After receiving no money from any of the top lobbyists for Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. or Alphabet Inc. in the two previous election cycles going back to 2017, Schumer's attracted some $30,000 in direct donations to his campaign from the lobbyists and executives of the companies opposed to a bill that would curb how the platforms operate.

It's a sign of stepped-up lobbying and donations by individuals as the power of the technology giants comes under scrutiny on Capitol Hill, a Bloomberg News review of giving shows.

Congress is considering the American Choice and Innovation Online Act sponsored by Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar to prevent companies from using their platforms to disadvantage rivals.

Klobuchar's antitrust bill would be the most significant piece of legislation aimed at the tech giants to pass Congress after years of inaction. Despite bipartisan anger at the industry, lawmakers have been unable to pass significant regulation.

After delaying the vote, Schumer said he's working with Klobuchar and others to gather the 60 needed votes to pass the legislation and plans to bring it to the floor in September. If it becomes law, the largest tech companies could be forced to change their business practices, potentially costing them billions of dollars.

With a decision looming, the industry's lobbyists are reaching more deeply into their own pockets and targeting those who might be swayed against the bill.

Campaign finance laws limit individual contributions compared with the millions the companies spend on lobbying. Individual donations are capped at $2,900 to each lawmaker per election and $36,500 to national party committees. While money alone doesn't determine votes, research has shown that giving money improves donors' access to congressional offices.

PACs for the major tech companies excluding Apple, which doesn't have a political action committee, have doled out roughly $4 million in campaign contributions since the beginning of 2021. Corporations use PACs to pool voluntary donations from executives, capped at $5,000 per year, and then contribute the money to candidates, other PACs and parties that align with their interests.

Apple's stranglehold over the App Store

With Apple facing opposition to its iron-clad grip over its App Store, the company's director of federal government affairs, Tim Powderly, tripled his campaign contributions from the previous election cycle, donating a total of $41,500 between 2021 and 2022. He targeted the campaigns of lawmakers who publicly voiced concerns about the tech bills, including Representative Zoe Lofgren and Senator Mike Lee. He also donated to Kevin McCarthy, an antitrust skeptic who could become the next House Speaker if the GOP retakes control, and Frank Pallone, the chair of the tech-focused House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Apple's top policy executive Lisa Jackson, the former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who donates prolifically to Democrats, gave $36,500 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year. A few months later, she was seen next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a private fundraiser. Pelosi will decide whether the antitrust legislation will go to a vote in the House this fall.

Amazon's general counsel maxed out on donations

David Zapolsky, general counsel of Amazon and a frequent bundler for Democrats, has given over $123,000 in political contributions, primarily focused on vulnerable Democrats in difficult races, most of whom haven't taken a public stance on the antitrust legislation. He's also maxed out individual donations to key senators who haven't yet committed to vote for the antitrust bill: Senators Michael Bennet, Ron Wyden, Maggie Hassan and Catherine Cortez Masto. Hassan, Cortez Masto and Wyden each received thousands of dollars from Amazon's PAC as well.

Powderly, Zapolsky and Google's Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker also all maxed out contributions to Schumer. And last year, Amazon's Chief Executive Officer, Andy Jassy, made his first donation to Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat.

Amazon spokesman Alex Haurek said it's "simply inaccurate to suggest" that Amazon executives make political contributions based on legislation potentially affecting the company.

Google's global head focused on GOP lawmakers

Karan Bhatia, global head of public policy and government affairs for Google, has donated about $28,500 this election cycle, aiming most of his funds toward GOP candidates. That's a sharp increase from his roughly $16,000 in donations during the 2019-2020 election cycle.

Mark Isakowitz, Google's vice president of government affairs and public policy, spent about $39,000 on lawmaker campaigns, donating to a number of GOP candidates. Isakowitz spent about $25,000 the previous election cycle. Both Isakowitz and Bhatia donated to South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune, who serves as the GOP's minority whip and hasn't said publicly whether he will vote for the legislation.

Microsoft says it's not lobbying for or against

Microsoft Corp., the target of a Justice Department monopolization case in the late 90s, says it's not lobbying for or against the antitrust bill. Instead, its executives are using it as an opportunity to deepen their ties with Congress and present the company as a "responsible" tech leader. They have spent even more than their counterparts, the Bloomberg analysis shows.

Microsoft lobbyist Fred Humphries was with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California at a January fundraiser hosted by Jeff Miller, a lobbyist who represents Amazon and Apple. Humphries gave $2,500 to McCarthy and $32,000 to the National Republican Campaign Committee this election cycle.

Humphries, vice president of US government affairs for Microsoft, has given $90,000 to lawmakers at the federal level, a boost from $75,000 during the last election cycle. Microsoft President Brad Smith has increased his spending to about $330,000 this election cycle, up from $248,000 in the 2019-2020 contests and $201,700 in the 2017-2018 election cycle.

The Microsoft executives also gave money to Schumer. Smith donated $5,800 to him last year and met with him this year.

"Our executives have a history of political giving in their personal capacity to candidates on both sides of the aisle," said Microsoft spokesperson Kate Frischmann.

Google declined to comment. Representatives from the senators' offices and Apple didn't respond to requests for comment.

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