4 major tech companies run the web-based world. But the reach of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple goes far beyond your browser. And as they face new scrutiny about privacy, anti-trust, and data security - they’ve poured cash and lobbyists into Washington to protect their interests. Lisa Fletcher follows the money.
From shopping to socializing and searching, Big tech is all over our small screens. But there's a much wider ppicture in play. Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook are facing a powerful threat to how they do business.
William Barr: Big tech companies like for instance, Google and Facebook who have drawn much attention of late, pose significant challenges not just for competition but also for the larger issues of privacy and the free flow of ideas.
The Department of Jusice is pressing an antitrust review of the tech giants - scrutiny similar to - and that brought about the breakup of oil companies a century ago - or the bell system in the 80s. So the new tech is resorting to an age old tactic - flooding washington with money and lobbyists.
Lisa Gilbert: They need to spend money in politics so that politicians remember that one of the reasons they’re in office is because of the campaign dollars that the big 4 gave.
Lisa Gilbert tracks spending with the watchdog group Public Citizen.
Lisa : More than a third of their political spending - of the $346 million that Public Citizen looked at -- more than a third has occurred just in the last year. What’s the explanation for that?
Lisa Gilbert: As we've seen things like the Russian hacking scandal that was perpetrated through Facebook or data breaches through a tech companies left and right, they have recognized that they're likely to face privacy regulations and potential antitrust violations. All of that means they need more people here talking about their company's best interests.
Lisa: Lobbying by the Big 4 skyrocketed more than 600 percent in 9 years - from just $7.5 million in 2009 to $55.4 million in 2018 - with money going to both Democrats and Republicans.
Lisa: Your report indicated that about half of the members of Congress received money from at least two and in some cases all four of the big four. Are these companies essentially inoculating themselves against onerous legislation?
Lisa Gilbert: Yes, it’s a strategy to be bipartisan That is unusual in corporate political spending. Often we see dollars go toward Republicans. But in this case, Silicon valley is playing differently, they’ve recognized that this legislation is probably inevitable. So they need people in every room on both sides of the aisle.
Lisa: Is it working?
Lisa Gilbert: Certainly we’ve seen legislation slow down. Lisa: In 2009, there were 89 lobbyists working for the Big 4 on Capitol Hill. Last year, we were up to 277.
Lisa Gilbert: They have been hiring folks with deep Rolodexes connected to the committees of jurisdiction, energy and commerce and judiciary, as well as people from the agencies, from the FTC and DOJ to have on the payroll in house as lobbyists.
Lisa: Should we be concerned about the high political spending of the big four in Washington?
Lisa Gilbert: Absolutely. Things that harm consumers, things that harm our elections, real vibrant concerns for America. And the regulation that needs to ensue is vital. So anything that derails the new possible public protections is a problem.
Those antitrust probes are ongoing. Gilbert told us it’s up to regulators like the Federal Trade Commission tasked with looking objectively into vital consumer issues.