Faced with the growing possibility of antitrust actions and legislation to curb their power, four of the biggest technology companies are amassing an army of lobbyists as they prepare for what could be an epic fight over their futures.
Initially slow to develop a presence in Washington, the tech giants — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — have rapidly built themselves into some of the largest players in the influence and access industry as they confront threats from the Trump administration and both parties on Capitol Hill.
The four companies spent a combined $55 million on lobbying last year, doubling their combined spending of $27.4 million in 2016, and some are spending at a higher rate so far this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying and political contributions. That puts them on a par with long-established lobbying powerhouses like the defense, automobile and banking industries.
As they have tracked increasing public and political discontent with their size, power, handling of user data and role in elections, the four companies have intensified their efforts to lure lobbyists with strong connections to the White House, the regulatory agencies, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Of the 238 people registered to lobby for the four companies in the first three months of this year — both in-house employees and those on contract from lobbying and law firms — about 75 percent formerly served in the government or on political campaigns, according to an analysis of lobbying and employment records. Many worked in offices or for officials who could have a hand in deciding the course of the new governmental scrutiny.
The influence campaigns encompass a broad range of activities, including calls on members of Congress, advertising, funding of think-tank research and efforts to get the attention of President Trump, whose on-again, off-again streak of economic populism is of particular concern to the big companies.
Last month, the industry lobbying group, the Internet Association, which represents Amazon, Facebook and Google, awarded its Internet Freedom Award to Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House senior adviser.
“They are no longer upstarts dipping a toe in lobbying,” said Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “They have both feet in.”
Considering the stock price hammering they got on Monday with announcement of Justice Department and House Judiciary Committee action against them was worth way more than $55 million, they'd consider straight purchase of lawmakers to be a hell of an investment. And unlike the big banks and defense contractors, they have more money to burn.
This is going to get nasty, and quick.