WASHINGTON, D.C. Aug. 14, 2018 – Today, Campaign for Accountability (“CfA”), a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that runs the Google Transparency Project, released a new report, “Partisan Programming,” detailing how political campaigns utilize embedded staffers from Facebook and Google to help run their campaigns – an arrangement that provides companies with unique access to top politicians. CfA also called on the leaders of the House and Senate Rules Committees to investigate the arrangement and determine whether new laws or regulations are needed to prevent tech companies from abusing their relationships with politicians.
Read the letter to Congress here.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Political operatives from Facebook and Google help politicians get elected and then lobby them after they’ve won. Through this arrangement, tech companies enjoy unparalleled access to elected officials. Congress needs to investigate this conduct and consider additional laws and regulations to prevent tech companies form abusing their influence.”
During the 2016 election cycle, Facebook and Google loaned politically-experienced employees to presidential campaigns free-of-charge. The tech employees helped campaigns target voters, craft messages, design ads, and even respond to opponents during and after political debates.
CfA compiled a database of the companies’ campaign embeds by analyzing LinkedIn profiles of company employees. CfA identified 70 Google/YouTube employees and 32 Facebook employees that appeared to work for political campaigns. CfA’s analysis shows that nearly 40 percent of the Google elections team worked in politics or government before going to the company, and more than 50 percent of Facebook’s political staff previously worked in politics or government. In some cases, employees worked concurrently supporting campaigns and lobbying elected officials.
Facebook and Google benefit from this arrangement by obtaining valuable intelligence for their lobbying operations and forging relationships with the politicians who regulate them. Tech company embeds attested to the unique benefits of the arrangement during interviews with two academics, Daniel Kreiss & Shannon C. McGregor, who published a paper last fall chronicling tech’s involvement in the 2016 campaigns.
CfA’s letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Rules Committees, which have jurisdiction over federal elections, calls on the committees to investigate the practice of embedding tech company employees in political campaigns. The letter asks members of Congress to consider whether the practice constitutes undisclosed lobbying expenditures or illegal in-kind corporate contributions to political campaigns and suggests several possible remedies.
Stevens continued, “Tech companies like Facebook and Google are more than just a special interest for politicians – they are in fact a crucial part of their reelection strategies. Congress needs to take action to prevent tech companies from cashing in on their efforts to get lawmakers elected.”
Campaign for Accountability is nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.