Amazon and Facebook shelled out record sums to lobby the federal government this spring as the nation’s largest internet companies frantically seek to tamp down ballooning scrutiny and threats of heavy regulation and even corporate break-ups coming from Washington.
The second-quarter figures are the latest sign that the so-called “techlash” is prompting at least some companies to ramp up their lobbying efforts as they attempt to defuse the ire of lawmakers and regulators and shape public policy in areas like competition, privacy and online speech.
Story Continued Below
Google also finds itself on Washington’s naughty list but bucked the spending trend, tallying its lowest sum on lobbying in any quarter since 2011. The figure may reflect a broader reconfiguration that has been underway in Google’s D.C. office in recent months.
Representatives from Google, Facebook and Amazon, as well as Apple, appeared at a House antitrust subcommittee hearing last week to defend the way their businesses compete with others online. All four companies face mounting antitrust scrutiny not only from Capitol Hill, but also enforcers at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission.
Meanwhile, Facebook and Google-owned YouTube, along with fellow social media platform Twitter, have been criticized for how they moderate unsavory and illicit content on their platforms, including hate speech, posts depicting and inciting mass violence, foreign election interference and illegal drug sales. Some Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have also accused the Silicon Valley-based firms of harboring a bias against conservative points of view.
Apple splashed out $1.81 million on federal lobbying in the second quarter, within the range it’s spent in the past. Twitter spent about $440,000, a record for the company but still far below the spend of industry peers with more expansive lobbying operations.
Facebook and Amazon each notched a quarterly sum above $4 million for the first time ever in the three-month period from April to June.
Facebook has endured arguably the greatest scrutiny of any tech firm from lawmakers and regulators over how it handles users’ personal information and determines how to police their posts. The company is preparing to be slapped with a $5 billion FTC fine for failing to protect the privacy of millions of users when their data was improperly leaked to Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm.
Amazon’s name, meanwhile, has been on the lips of many Democrats running for president. Candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have emerged as chief antagonists of the company, bashing both its market power and its labor practices. Amazon has dismissed those critiques, arguing that the global retail sector remains broadly competitive and insisting it treats its workers well. The company hiked its minimum wage to $15 an hour last year, though it also eliminated stock awards and performance-based incentive pay for many of the hourly workers affected by the change.
Google shelled out $2.94 million on lobbying in the second quarter — the least Google has spent in a single quarter since 2011, records show. The office has been going through a reshuffling since former George W. Bush administration official Karan Bhatia took over as Google’s global head of public policy last year.
Bhatia has shed some of Google’s internal staff, while also sacking at least six of the company’s outside firms. Google is still on the hunt for a replacement for Susan Molinari, the former Republican congresswoman from New York who stepped down as head of the D.C. office last year. She remained an adviser to Google but de-registered as a lobbyist in the second quarter.
Google is spending less on lobbying even as the search giant also faces sharply mounting Washington criticism over matters ranging from privacy to content moderation to market competition. Bhatia faced intense questioning from a Senate panel last week over alleged online bias against conservatives and the company’s business dealings in China.