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Politics

Google, Facebook and Amazon spending more than ever lobbying Congress

Combined, the tech giants spent more than $65 million to influence Washington last year.

The US Capitol Building

Google and almost every tech giant spent more on lobbying Congress in 2018 than 2017.

Getty Images

Tech giants kicked up their spending on Capitol Hill last year, as companies, including Google, Facebook and Amazon, conducted record-setting lobbying efforts.

Google led the charge, spending more than $21.2 million on lobbying in 2018. The search giant was followed by Amazon, which spent more than $14 million to address lawmakers. Facebook, challenged with issues such as slowing user growth and a massive data privacy scandal, spent $12.6 million on lobbying efforts in 2018. All three spent more on lobbying in 2018 than ever. 

Google declined to comment. Amazon and Facebook didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Microsoft, which also raised its spending in 2018, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The increased spending comes as lawmakers turn their attention to regulating the tech industry, with issues like privacy legislation, net neutrality, election integrity, 5G connectivity and cybersecurity among their concerns.   

The spending statistics come from the latest quarterly filing reports, which were due on Tuesday. Almost every major tech company across the board spent more on lobbying in 2018 than it did in 2017. One exception: Apple, which spent $6.6 million compared with $7 million in the year before. The iPhone maker didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

For the first time, Twitter's lobbying efforts surpassed $1 million, doubling the $550,000 it spent in 2017. A Twitter spokesman declined to comment.

Company

Spent in 2018

Spent in 2017

Google

$21,210,000

$18,040,000

Amazon

$14,190,000

$12,800,000

Facebook

$12,620,000

$11,500,000

Microsoft

$9,520,000

$8,500,000

Apple

$6,600,000

$7,070,000

Twitter

$1,100,000

$550,000

With the increased spending came increased scrutiny from lawmakers.

Members of Congress called on CEOs such as Google's Sundar Pichai, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey to testify last year, while lawmakers also demanded answers from Amazon over its facial recognition program.

Most of the tech companies lobbied Congress on data privacy issues, specifically in regards to a potential US data privacy law.

In September, Google released its data privacy framework ahead of a Senate hearing on a looming law aimed at protecting your data. Facebook said it would also back US privacy regulation, while Apple's CEO Tim Cook has demanded privacy rights for consumers.  

The tech giants also lobbied Congress on issues like online advertising, data breaches, net neutrality, international trade, education, health care and immigration. Combined, they spent more than $65 million on lobbying in 2018. The lobbying efforts weren't on a united front, however. 

Differences in lobbying efforts

Along with privacy and security issues, Amazon paid lobbyists in discussions with the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Security Council and the US Postal Service.

Advocates criticized Amazon for its work with the DHS and ICE, arguing the tech company shouldn't be offering facial recognition technology to governments. A Trump administration task force has also pushed for USPS reform that would raise Amazon shipping costs.  

Amazon also lobbied on internet-of-things security, which the company has a stake in with its Alexa products.

Facebook and Twitter both spent money lobbying Congress on the Honest Ads act, a bill proposed by senators that would require transparency on political advertising online. The legislation came about after Russian influencers posing as Americans were found to have purchased ads on Facebook and Twitter during the 2016 US presidential election.

After facing criticism from conservatives over "shadow-banning," Twitter also directed its lobbying efforts around content moderation and election integrity in 2018.

Apple was among the few to lobby over trade relations between the US and China amid concerns friction between the countries would push up iPhone prices. In January, Cook wrote in a letter to investors hat there was a decline of sales in China.

Mobile spending

The four major US mobile carriers were also big spenders on Capitol Hill in 2018.

AT&T spent the most of the networks, dropping $15.8 million in lobbying, about $1 million less than it spent in 2017. Every telecommunications giant lobbied Congress on 5G connectivity. The carriers didn't respond to a request for comment.

Company

Spent in 2018

Spent in 2017

AT&T

$15,820,000

$16,780,000

Verizon

$10,040,000

$9,900,000

T-Mobile

$8,105,000

$8,300,000

Sprint

$2,990,000

$2,310,000

 AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile also spent millions lobbying on privacy legislation.

Mobile carriers were caught selling people's location data to aggregators in 2018, a behavior they promised to end last June. In January, a Motherboard investigation found the networks continued the practice, prompting lawmakers to call for an investigation. The carriers now say they will end the practice by March.  

Verizon and Sprint spent more in 2018 than they did in 2017. Combined, mobile carriers spent $36.9 million in lobbying efforts over the last year.

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