Facebook’s Hill Campaign Donations Pale Next to Google’s

The social-media giant donated heavily to the lawmakers questioning CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week—but not as heavily as Google.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives for a meeting with Bill Nelson, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, on Monday.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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Brendan Bordelon
April 9, 2018, 8 p.m.

Facebook’s political contributions are under scrutiny ahead of chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s planned testimony before the House and Senate this week.

But while the social-media company has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the lawmakers tasked with questioning Zuckerberg over his firm’s careless handling of user data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook is hardly an outlier when compared to another top tech platform facing similar scrutiny.

Campaign-contribution data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that between 2011 and today, Facebook gave a total of $977,010 to lawmakers sitting on the three congressional committees to which Zuckerberg is slated to testify—$378,150 went to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while the Senate Commerce and Senate Judiciary committees respectively received $367,455 and $231,405.

Google—a company that most experts believe engages in data-privacy practices at least as troubling as Facebook’s—far outspent Facebook over the same time period. The search-engine giant gave a total of $1,693,264 to the same lawmakers, with $807,506 going to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee alone. The company also gave $498,929 to the Senate Commerce Committee and $386,829 to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Google—which underwent corporate restructuring in 2015 and is now officially known as Alphabet Inc.—also tends to focus its donations more intently toward the leaders of the relevant congressional committees than does Facebook.

Between 2011 and today, Google contributed a total of $89,200 to the sitting chairman and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Facebook, by contrast, donated just $27,000. The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Commerce and Senate Judiciary Committees received a total of $75,655 from Google, but only $50,835 from Facebook.

Congressional angst over Silicon Valley’s growing power means that Google, Facebook, and other tech giants have come under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers over the past several years. But when it comes to committees capable of clipping their wings, both companies appear more worried by the House than the Senate.

Between 2011 and today, Facebook donated significantly more to lawmakers at the House Energy and Commerce Committee than to any other House panel. The same is largely true of Google, which has spent more on the House Energy and Commerce Committee every cycle except the current one, when it has so far prioritized the House Judiciary Committee.

By relative contrast, both Facebook and Google have neglected the senators most likely to craft legislation regulating their data-privacy practices.

The Senate Commerce Committee was only Facebook’s third-highest recipient of campaign contributions in the previous two election cycles, with the social-media company instead prioritizing lawmakers on the Senate Finance and Senate Armed Services Committees. The same committee was even further down Google’s list, coming in 11th place during the 2016 election cycle and in 12th place during this year’s ongoing congressional campaigns.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee received even less love from the tech giants. The Judiciary Committee has received fewer Facebook contributions than any other committee this electoral cycle, and since 2011 has never been in the top three. Google has similarly neglected the Judiciary Committee, sending far fewer contributions to senators on that panel than to those in the Armed Services and Budget committees over the last several years.

Facebook may be on the hot seat this week, but Google and other top tech platforms are likely to take their own beatings from Congress as the Cambridge Analytica scandal continues to unfold. Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, told reporters Monday that he would “absolutely” like to see executives from Google, Twitter, and other tech companies testify on their data-privacy policies.

“Because it’s not just Facebook,” Nelson said. “[Zuckerberg] happens to be the point of the spear. But all these other app sites that get your personal data—that’s another way of us losing our privacy.”


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