#Tech giants hire advocacy groups to burnish their images, deter regulators

#Tech giants hire advocacy groups to burnish their images, deter regulators

June 11, 2020 | 2:42pm | Updated June 11, 2020 | 2:48pm

Tech behemoths Amazon, Facebook and Google are employing a number of advocacy groups to conduct p.r.-like campaigns that include letter writing and polling to paint a positive image for them and persuade regulators against breaking up or penalizing the industry, according to a report.

The tactic comes as the Justice Department and attorneys general have launched investigations into the tech firms on antitrust grounds, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The Connected Commerce Council, a Washington-based nonprofit that champions its work for small business, counts Amazon, Facebook and Google as “partners” and has been behind campaigns to prop up the Silicon Valley companies and argue they do not threaten competition or smother smaller rivals.

The trio of tech firms deny violating antitrust rules.

The Connected Commerce Council’s president, Jake Ward, told the Washington Post that it represents thousands of small businesses and encourages their founders to share their views publicly.

“It is our responsibility, on behalf of our small-business members, to protect the existing model and promote the market, which is working exceedingly well,” Ward said. “We are not, and will not work for, Big Tech.”

Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, and Facebook declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for Google, Julie Tarallo McAlister, said in a statement the company backs “a range of organizations like the Connected Commerce Council that are working to help small businesses grow and prosper online.”

The tech giants like other companies use a variety of advocacy groups to spread their message and burnish their corporate images.

And they aren’t required to disclose how much they pay the organizations and who is involved in the decision making.

It’s that they are involved makes it worrisome, ethics watchdogs say.

“It is an example of industry spending money and exerting influence, but doing it in a way that is meant to give the impression that it is not coming from industry,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the newspaper.

The tech companies have also reached out to conservative groups, including the National Taxpayers Union, a right-leaning group that targets wasteful government spending to curry favor with Republicans, who control the Senate and the Executive Branch.

The taxpayer group last month used a polling company that had worked for President Trump’s 2016 campaign to gauge voter sentiment about the tech companies, the report said.

It concentrated its surveys on Arizona, Texas and other states actively investigating Google and other companies and found that voters believe their attorneys general should focus on other issues.

Pete Sepp, the president of NTU, wouldn’t discuss donors or why the poll was commissioned.

But he said he and the organization have worked on competition-related issues for years.

“We have a huge historical footprint in the antitrust issue space that transcends any tech firm and goes well before their founding,” he said.


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