In a major investigation, the New Statesman data team has analysed thousands of records from a decade of federal lobbying, to see how the major tech players work to wield influence at the heart of the US legislature.
The New Statesman has analysed federal lobbying data from 15 leading tech companies to shed light on the growth in spending over the past decade that has made Big Tech such a dominant political force on Capitol Hill.
We used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, and Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) reports to analyse Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, IBM, SAP, Intel, Uber, Lyft, Alibaba, Huawei, ZTE and TikTok owners Bytedance.
Communications and electronics are the fourth highest-spending sector in US federal lobbying, with almost 700 companies spending $436 million in 2020. The 15 companies the New Statesman analysed make up just under a quarter of that total.
The titans of Big Tech have faced a reckoning over the past few years. As their lobbying spend continues to rise, people rightly question the influence they are having over legislation. But experts who spoke to the New Statesman say the patterns aren’t as simple as they may seem on the surface, and the rise in spending has been coupled with increasingly sophisticated methods of influence.
Nien-hê Hsieh, a professor of business ethics at Harvard University says that in the 1990s, “there was a real reluctance or reticence to engage in Washington” from the leading tech companies of the day.
“Some people probably even thought that technology is the wave of the future as opposed to government or tech or politics and so it was maybe also in some ways framed as apolitical,” he says. “I think a lot of the promise of these new technologies was that they would in some sense transcend politics.”
In the early 2000s, the Microsoft antitrust suit set a precedent for federal involvement in tech companies, and proved that government and tech couldn’t be separated. Since then, tech lobbying on Capitol Hill has seen huge growth.
The early 2010s saw huge growth in lobbying spending by tech companies. A plateau in the late Obama years was followed by another steep increase once Trump took office. But in recent years some major players have slowed or even decreased their spending, suggesting that major corporations are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to wielding power on Capitol Hill.
“I would be very surprised if there were any philanthropic motivations behind their lobbying.”
Despite being slowed down by the pandemic, overall 2020 federal lobbying figures barely decreased from 2019 – down from $3.51bn to $3.49bn. The same is seen in Big Tech, with spending by the 15 companies dropping from $99m to $96.3m. Daniel Auble, a senior researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, says first quarter spending in 2020 was “a record, basically the biggest quarter we’ve ever seen”.
Jane Chung, an advocate lobbyist on Big Tech at Public Citizen, a non-profit that describes itself as “lobbyists for the people”, says this huge growth in tech spending …read more
Source:: New Statesman
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