By Ryan Tracy, Chad Day and Anthony DeBarros
WASHINGTON -- Big technology companies are bracing for a new
administration and new scrutiny of their businesses with a
time-tested strategy: opening their pocketbooks.
Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. topped all other U.S.
companies in federal lobbying expenditures last year, according to
a Wall Street Journal analysis of the most recent disclosures. It
was the second straight year they outspent all other companies,
including stalwarts such as AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co.
Facebook, facing federal and state antitrust lawsuits as well as
a series of hearings summoning CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Washington,
spent nearly $20 million in 2020, up nearly 18% from the previous
Amazon, which saw CEO Jeff Bezos testify before Congress for the
first time and continued pressing to expand its business as a
government contractor, spent about $18 million last year, up about
11% from 2019 spending.
"We've been clear that the internet needs updated regulations,
which is why we'll continue voicing our support for new rules that
address today's realities online," a Facebook spokesman said.
"Amazon provides a wide range of products and services for our
customers, and we're always looking for ways to innovate on their
behalf. Our Washington, D.C., team is focused on ensuring we are
advocating on issues that are important to policymakers, our
employees and our customers," an Amazon spokeswoman said.
The Journal analyzed reports filed by U.S. companies with
Congress under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The reports cover the
Apple Inc. disclosed $6.7 million in lobbying spending for 2020,
down from a record $7.4 million in 2019.
Alphabet Inc.'s Google also reported a drop in lobbying budget
for the second year running, spending $7.5 million.
Apple and Google declined to comment on the lobbying
Such expenditures, which are required to be disclosed under
federal law, represent only part of an array of efforts the four
tech giants are using to counter their critics and build goodwill
in Washington at a time when they are under a brighter spotlight
Google and Facebook face multiple antitrust lawsuits, and Amazon
and Apple have been the subject of preliminary inquiries that could
advance further under the Biden administration.
While President Biden hasn't spelled out a tech agenda or made
key personnel choices overseeing the sector, Democrats in Congress
are pushing him to be more aggressive in tackling Big Tech's market
power. They are planning their own legislation and oversight on
issues such as antitrust, privacy, liability for user-generated
content, and misinformation.
Social media's role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot gave new urgency
to those plans -- and led Facebook, Amazon and others to suspend
political donations, curtailing a source of influence.
A key part of the companies' playbook is funding groups that
agree with the companies' agenda.
In a separate disclosure of its political activity, Google said
in December that it is a member or a substantial contributor to
nearly 200 trade associations and political advocacy groups,
including several that work on antitrust issues. Some of the groups
have criticized Google.
When a Colorado-led coalition of attorneys general filed an
antitrust suit against Google in mid-December over its dominance in
online search, the president of the Connected Commerce Council --
one of the Google-funded groups -- issued a statement blasting the
action. It was emailed to reporters before details of the suit were
The council's members are small businesses who benefit from tech
companies' products, said its president, Jake Ward. He said he has
used funds from Facebook, Google and Amazon to fund research and
staffing, but the companies don't have a say on the positions the
Facebook in 2020 backed a new advocacy group, the American Edge
Project, to warn against the dangers of curbing tech
In December, two of the group's paid advisers, former Sens.
Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) and Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), wrote a
Washington Times commentary citing a poll conducted on the group's
behalf that showed voters have high levels of appreciation for
American tech products and companies.
A representative of American Edge said its more than two dozen
members have diverse backgrounds. They include advocacy groups for
other industries, such as medical device manufacturers.
Apple has taken a proactive stance as it felt the heat of the
antitrust spotlight. Ahead of a July hearing with CEO Tim Cook and
other chief executives last year, the company offered to brief
congressional staff on a study showing the economic benefits of its
App Store. An Apple spokesman said the study was developed as a
curtain-raiser for the company's Worldwide Developers
The companies have also hired Washington experience, according
to LinkedIn profiles of their employees. Under scrutiny from the
Federal Trade Commission, Facebook last year hired Barbara Blank, a
12-year FTC veteran and former senior official in the agency's
bureau of competition, which manages antitrust suits.
It also brought on two former staffers from the Senate Judiciary
Committee, which oversees antitrust and other tech-related
Amazon, the subject of a preliminary FTC inquiry, last year
recruited an antitrust lawyer from the Justice Department and hired
four former FTC officials, including three antitrust lawyers and an
Apple hired a Justice Department lawyer and a former FTC
antitrust official who also advised FTC Commissioner Rebecca
Slaughter, now the agency's acting chairwoman.
The companies also buy Washington-focused ads. Facebook bought
digital ads in Washington publications in 2020, touting support of
"updated internet regulations."
This month, Big Tech offered the Biden administration help
combating the coronavirus pandemic and highlighted long-shared
A senior Amazon executive publicly wrote Mr. Biden a letter on
Inauguration Day, offering IT and logistical help in rolling out a
Google CEO Sundar Pichai tweeted praise of Mr. Biden's first-day
executive actions on the pandemic, climate change and immigration.
Apple's Mr. Cook praised Mr. Biden's immigration policy as
And before the inauguration, Facebook representatives discussed
with the Biden transition the companies' efforts to combat
misinformation on the coronavirus, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosted
federal infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci for a conversation
Among other tech companies, Microsoft Corp. spent $9.4 million
on lobbying in 2020, Oracle Corp. spent about $8.1 million, TikTok
owner ByteDance Inc. spent $2.6 million and Twitter Inc. spent $1.5
--John D. McKinnon contributed to this article.
Write to Ryan Tracy at email@example.com, Chad Day at
Chad.Day@wsj.com and Anthony DeBarros at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 24, 2021 10:14 ET (15:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.