A Letter to Republicans in Congress Regarding Big Tech Funding

Congressional staff should reconsider meetings with organizations that receive money from Big Tech companies.

I received a fair amount of pushback on my Substack post last month highlighting Big Tech’s ongoing effort to win favor on the Right by contributing millions of dollars to think tanks and publications, which in turn advocate for policies favored by these Silicon Valley companies. No surprise there — a number of center-right organizations depend on annual six-figure grants, either from the Big Tech-friendly Koch network or from Big Tech companies directly, in order to stay operational. It’s understandable that some might get upset at me for attacking that funding or for suggesting that it might come with a credibility cost.

However, I stand by everything I wrote. And I’m not going to stop ringing this bell.

If Big Tech companies pay for a tech policy staffer’s salary, or his organization’s expenses, that money effectively pays for his platform. It doesn’t matter whether he earnestly believes the Google talking points or not. The money flows because he is using his organization’s credibility in right-wing circles to try and persuade Republican lawmakers not to regulate or interfere with the actions of Big Tech companies in any way. That’s the point of the funding. That’s how Washington works.

With most industries, perhaps this quid pro quo wouldn’t be that big of a deal. It happens all the time. But because of the existential importance of reining in Big Tech, I don’t think Republicans can let this slide. If we fail to stop the Silicon Valley censors, we might as well write the obituary for American democracy. So my position is simple: Big Tech-funded organizations should no longer be a part of the conversation on issues related to Big Tech. Any publication that quotes them should add a disclaimer alerting readers to their funding. Any politician that talks with them should treat the meeting as if it were a meeting with Google or Facebook’s public policy team.

I made this argument directly to Republican Members of Congress, Senators and Congressional staff this morning. Below is the full text of the letter:

June 7th, 2021

To Republican Members of Congress, Senators, and Congressional staff:

I write to you today because the American conservative movement is deeply concerned about the effort of Big Tech and its allies to influence public policy on the Right. 

The Daily Caller first documented this effort in 2019, pointing out that Google had contributed to “groups like R-Street, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), TechFreedom, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to name a few.” Similarly, NBC News reported that “[a]fter years of big spending, tech’s political machine turns to higher gear.” Just last month, Washington Monthly detailed the rise of a new Koch-funded group, the Alliance for Antitrust, “dedicated to pushing a pro-monopoly line on Republicans” in the area of Big Tech. Most of the groups that make up the Alliance, the article noted, also “receive financial support from Big Tech[.]”

Over the last two years, Big Tech has not only interfered in our elections and increasingly censored conservatives, but also simultaneously plotted to coopt the Republican Party and avoid scrutiny on the Right by pouring millions of dollars into center-right think tanks. Take a quick look at Google’s most recent list of organizations accepting “the most substantial contributions” from its U.S. Government Affairs and Public Policy team. Or glance at Facebook’s list of partner organizations. They are both filled with preeminent progressive groups as well as prominent right-leaning groups and publications.  

Big Tech’s spending spree on the Right will no longer be a secret, or even an open secret. Those who take from the Silicon Valley cartel that is actively undermining our constitutional regime will be spotlighted on the national stage just as much as those who give. As such, I caution all of you to carefully consider your interactions with Big Tech-funded groups, especially when discussing issues related to Section 230, antitrust, common carrier regulations, and political appointments to relevant regulatory bodies, including the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, Federal Election Commission, and Federal Communications Commission. 

Further, prior to accepting any meetings, Congressional staff should do their best to determine whether the participants receive funding from Big Tech. While it is prudent to hear arguments about public policy made in good faith, it is foolish to ignore the presence of private financial interests. Make no mistake, a meeting with an organization that takes notable sums of money from Google is no different than a meeting with a member of Google’s Public Policy team. In far too many cases, the agenda of such organizations will be wholly compromised, singularly reflecting the agenda of their Big Tech patrons.

Of course, lobbying is not new. Corporations have long labored to purchase influence through donations to elected officials, think tanks, and media outlets. But what Big Tech is doing is of an entirely different order. While the special interests of the past worked to advance their agendas within the system, Big Tech is convinced that the system itself must be destroyed to advance its agenda. That is starkly evidenced by its dismantlement of our republic’s foundation and its destruction of freedom of expression, perhaps our most cherished ideal. Big Tech has only amplified its censoring, banning, and deplatforming of candidates, activists, and organizations—and even everyday citizens. 

Unfortunately, we must now conclude that the sheer effectiveness of Big Tech’s rending of the Constitution has been at least in part due to its ability to corrupt certain Republicans. Each and every year, Big Tech is spending incalculable sums of money to launder its worldview, one that sacrifices American sovereignty and eliminates individual rights, through a network of seemingly disinterested “conservative” advocacy groups. Alas, it is hardly surprising then that as the threats to free speech online have grown, so too have the checks written by Big Tech.

I appreciate your attention to this urgent matter, and I look forward to working with you in the months ahead. Conservative voters are demanding action to address the domineering power of Big Tech in the halls of power. We must not let these corporations drive the agenda any longer, for they are ceaselessly undercutting the values and aspirations of the American people. 

Sincerely,

Jon Schweppe
Director of Policy and Government Affairs
American Principles Project

You can read Axios’ write-up about the letter here.