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Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo: Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Flagship conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation turned down a pair of six-figure contributions last year from tech giants Google and Facebook, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: CEOs for both companies will be on the Hill on Thursday, where they're expected to endure verbal lashings from both sides of the aisle. Heritage's rejection of their support, which came just days before the 2020 election, is a microcosm of the conservative fury at major tech firms.

What's new: Outgoing Heritage president Kay Coles James wrote pointed letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai in late October turning down their contributions.

  • The letters, which Heritage provided to Axios, formally rejected a $225,000 contribution from Google and noted that it would be returning a $150,000 donation from Facebook.
  • "We cannot in good conscience take money from a company that repeatedly, and blatantly, suppresses conservative speech on your platforms," said the letter to Pichai, language closely mirrored in the note to Zuckerberg.
  • Heritage accused Facebook of blocking referral traffic to the foundation's news and opinion website, and Google of censoring its YouTube videos, including by appending a disclaimer on one pre-election video "meant to cast doubt on the credibility of our well-sourced claims about the risks of voting by mail."
  • The Zuckerberg letter also noted Facebook's decision to temporarily limit the reach of New York Post story on the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop just weeks before the election.

Flashback: According to a Heritage spokesperson, Google had previously donated a total of $1.55 million to the group. Facebook had contributed $275,000.

  • Contributions to Heritage in 2019 alone totaled more than $87 million, according to its financial statements for the year.

Between the lines: Heritage's release of its letters to Zuckerberg and Pichai came on the eve of their testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.

  • Both CEOs are expected to face hostile questioning from members on both sides of the aisle. Heritage's complaints last year mirror likely lines of attack from Republicans.
  • Indeed, one GOP congressman, Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, said on Wednesday that he would not accept future donations from Google, Facebook or Amazon.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that Facebook temporarily limited the reach of the New York Post's story, not that it blocked links to it.

Go deeper

Mar 24, 2021 - Podcasts

California Rep. Anna Eshoo on Thursday's Big Tech hearing

The House on Thursday is scheduled to hold its first Big Tech hearing of 2021, with witnesses to include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who represents part of Silicon Valley, about what she hopes to learn and why she's more interested in algorithms than moderators.

Mar 24, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Key House Republican says he won't take Big Tech money

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), the lead Republican on the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, will stop accepting donations from Google, Facebook and Amazon, he said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Buck (R-Co.) is declining Big Tech donations as regulatory scrutiny on tech companies heats up in Washington.

It's time for tech CEOs' closeups — again

Photo: Graeme Jennings — Pool/Getty Images

Thursday's House hearing on misinformation marks the fourth time since the pandemic's start that tech CEOs videoconferenced with Congress.

Why it matters: It's getting to be a regular thing, and industry observers are wondering whether anyone is going to start getting better at it.