Oct 28, 2019

Big Tech to spend record amount on lobbying amid heightened scrutiny

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Lobbying expenses by Facebook, Amazon and Apple are set to hit record highs in 2019, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Tech companies are shelling out more money for lobbying as they face federal and state investigations and increased regulatory scrutiny.

By the numbers:

  • Amazon doled out $12.4 million so far in 2019, making it the top spender among Big Tech companies.
  • Facebook's spending jumped to $12.3 million so far in 2019 — an almost 25% jump from the same period in 2018.
  • Apple spent $5.5 million over the first nine months of the year — an 8% boost from last year.
  • Of note: Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., posted a 41% decline in lobbying expenses after it overhauled its government affairs operation. Google still spent $9.8 million on lobbying so far this year.

How it works: The companies have mainly used the money to present a positive message to Washington.

  • Google, for example, has posted signs touting its privacy protections on turnstiles and walls in Ronald Reagan National Airport.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is becoming a regular presence in the capital. He made three visits to Washington over the past five weeks, including a speech at Georgetown University and a visit to the White House.

The big picture: The three companies are the subjects of broad investigations, notes Axios' Sara Fischer.

  • Institutions investigating Facebook: House Judiciary Committee, House Financial Services Committee, the Federal Trade Commission, the Justice Department and state attorneys general.
  • Institutions investigating Amazon: FTC and House Judiciary Committee.
  • Institutions investigating Apple: House Judiciary Committee.

Go deeper: Explore Amazon's wide Washington reach

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House Judiciary Committee targets Big Tech but welcomes donations

Data: The Center for Responsive Politics via Sinclair Broadcast Group; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The debate surrounding antitrust laws and the monopoly power of major tech companies continues to heat up in Congress, even though members of both parties have accepted political donations from, and own stock in, a variety of Big Tech firms.

Why it matters, per Axios' Scott Rosenberg: For years, the biggest tech companies have been donating through PACs to lawmakers of both parties and building extensive lobbying operations in Washington in preparation for this moment. As legislators weigh new regulations, the firms will learn what kind of influence, if any, their investments have earned.

Go deeperArrowNov 23, 2019

DOJ scrutiny of tech could stretch beyond antitrust

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.

High-ranking antitrust enforcers, speaking at an influential D.C. legal forum, zeroed in on big tech companies' potential for anticompetitive behavior but also signaled they may take a broader approach to policing the industry.

The big picture: The Trump administration, Congress and state attorneys general are all investigating tech companies, including Google and Facebook, for antitrust violations. But they're also acknowledging that the laws governing competition may not be enough to rein in powerful online platforms.

Go deeperArrowNov 19, 2019

The sovereign state of Facebook

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook's scale and power have often made it seem more a kind of quasi-sovereign nation than a traditional company — and right now it's looking more like a failing state than a thriving one.

The big picture: Digital giants like Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are making the kinds of decisions about speech, personal safety, political power and financial relationships that have belonged to governments in the past. But at heart they are profit-making corporations with only limited competence in these domains, so their choices frequently go awry.