Amazon, Facebook, Google and four other top technology giants spent more than $65 million to lobby the U.S. government last year, shelling out record-breaking amounts in some cases to try to battle back antitrust scrutiny and a wave of new regulatory threats.
The sizable sums foreshadow the political blitz that Silicon Valley is likely to mount as President Joe Biden and his new Democratic majorities in Congress start sending early signals about their plans to try to rein in the tech industry.
Amazon in 2020 spent roughly $18 million on lobbying, and Facebook spent nearly $20 million, marking the most that either company has ever devoted to pushing its political agenda in Washington, according to an analysis of federal lobbying disclosures that became available Friday. The companies filed their final updates for the year, reflecting the period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, at midnight Thursday.
For Amazon, its spending burst coincided with its ever-expanding corporate footprint, as it seeks to sell the government on its efforts to help deliver the coronavirus vaccine and other audacious gambits like delivery by drone, according to the company’s filings. Facebook, meanwhile, intensified its lobbying at a time when the 2020 election brought another round of attention to its content-management practices, including its efforts to screen for disinformation and stop voter suppression, the company’s reports show.
Google, meanwhile, continued to scale back its lobbying efforts, committing nearly $8 million toward its Washington operation last year. Like Amazon, Facebook and other tech giants, the search behemoth focused some of its attention on competition in the months after state and federal regulators filed a flurry of antitrust lawsuits against the tech industry’s biggest firms. Along with Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and Uber, the seven tech giants and their subsidiaries combined spent $64.9 million in 2020, the records show.
Facebook declined to comment, and Amazon and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The tech industry’s sustained lobbying push reflects its souring reputation in Washington, where lawmakers in 2020 continued to bear down on Amazon, Facebook, Google and their peers for their size, power and perceived missteps. Democrats and Republicans did not manage to advance some of their most ambitious proposals, including efforts to toughen antitrust laws and hold social-media sites more directly accountable for their content-moderation practices. But lawmakers say they plan to reengage on these debates in 2021, now that Biden is in the White House and Democrats control both the House and Senate.
“There’s a lot of concern with how tech companies are handling disinformation, there’s a lot of concern about the ways tech companies are handling privacy,” said Michael Beckel, the research director for Issue One, which advocates for reform of the country’s campaign finance and ethics laws. “There’s a lot of policymakers and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are giving the tech industry more scrutiny. And with that increased scrutiny comes a desire to spend more on lobbying and make sure your side of the story is heard.”
Biden, for example, has indicated his opposition to Section 230, which spares a wide array of sites and services from being held liable for the content posted by their users. Democrats and Republicans share a desire to rethink the decades-old law, particularly in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which then-President Donald Trump helped stoke on major social-media sites and lesser-known alternative platforms.
Other Democrats have pledged to renew their efforts to pass a national privacy law. Even without it, the U.S. government’s primary privacy enforcement agency, the Federal Trade Commission, is likely to take direct aim at the tech industry and its data-collection practices under its newly named acting chairwoman, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.