There’s an iron-clad rule in U.S. campaign finance law: if you run a political advertisement, whether you’re a candidate or a third party group, you have to disclose within the ad who paid for it. For example, at the end of a campaign commercial, you might include a box at the bottom of the screen that reads “Paid for by XYZ PAC.”
But transparency doesn’t quite work the same way in Washington, D.C. While the law requires that direct lobbying must be disclosed, Big Tech found a pretty nifty way around it by providing millions of dollars in grants to think tanks, academic centers, and other political organizations, which then lobby for the interests of Big Tech under the guise of principled public interest advocacy. This strategy has proven to be extremely effective at scale when the funding goes to an entire ecosystem of groups echoing each other’s talking points and creating the illusion of massive public support for a policy that is entirely astroturfed.
Conservatives often focus on Google, Facebook, or even Apple funding, but we can’t underestimate the grant-providing might of Amazon. Earlier this month, Amazon appeared to mobilize a number of its paid apparatchiks to advocate for its attempt to acquire MGM studios. Behold, a story in four parts:
Tom Hebert is the Federal Affairs Manager at Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). Hebert works on a number of issues, but focuses a great deal on antitrust. According to American Principles Project’s BigTechFunding database, ATR is funded by Facebook, Google, Oracle, and Amazon.
As is typical for someone who works for an organization funded by Big Tech, Hebert tweeted something that looked like it might have been written by someone from Amazon’s policy team:
No surprises here. I particularly enjoyed “litany of new (and classic) content.” Almost made me want to subscribe to Amazon Prime! But Hebert isn’t really the highlight of this case study. Take a look at the retweets:
Grover Norquist is the President of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), which is funded by Facebook, Google, Oracle, and Amazon.
Kevin Glass is the Vice President of Communications and Outreach at the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), which is funded by Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
Gary Winslett is a Fellow at the R Street Institute (RSI). RSI is funded by Google, Amazon, and others.
Jennifer Huddleston is the Director of Tech & Innovation Policy at American Action Forum (AAF). AAF is funded by Facebook and Google.
Josh Withrow is Director of Tech Policy at the National Taxpayers Union (NTU). NTU is funded by Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
Okay, that’s a little strange. But what about the likes?
Isabelle Morales is a policy communications specialist at Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), which is funded by Facebook, Google, Oracle, and Amazon.
Shane Tews is a nonresident senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which is funded by Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
Iain Murray is Vice President for Strategy and a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which is funded by Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
Daniel Lyons is a nonresident senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which is funded by Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
Chris Marchese is Counsel at NetChoice, which is funded by Facebook and Google.
Daniel Savickas is Government Affairs Manager at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), which is funded by Google and Amazon.
Patrick Hedger is Vice President at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), which is funded by Google and Amazon.
And so it goes. Here we see a total of eight Big Tech-funded organizations represented, at least six of which are funded directly by Amazon, a company that pays these organizations to, among other things, defend its ability to acquire MGM studios to gain a stronger foothold in yet another market and add value to its $1.76 trillion market cap. These organizations then launder Amazon’s talking points and work together to amplify a “principled" position (by which they mean pro-Amazon) advocating for “consumers” (by which they mean Jeff Bezos) that is held by approximately zero real people and almost certainly zero real Republican voters. (All of these organizations, with the exception of NetChoice, are supposedly Right-leaning organizations.)
This phenomenon happens every day, it’s not naturally occurring, and it’s not just on Twitter. You’ll frequently see these same groups join on various coalition letters urging Congress or other elected officials to be nicer to Big Tech companies. Or you’ll see “alliances” develop to combat proposals like the six bipartisan antitrust bills in the House — and of course these alliances just happen to include a membership that consists solely of organizations funded by Google.
This is why we put together the BigTechFunding database and built the BigTechFunding browser extension. People need to know — and specifically, Republicans in the House and Senate need to know — just how fake all of this is. It’s mind-blowing.
Anyway, nice tweet, Amazon.