When the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee hosted the Big Tech CEOs earlier this week, the hearing veered off into chaos several times. Each time it was caused by the hysterics of the GOP’s resident attack dog, Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Jordan had no obvious understanding of, or interest in, tech antitrust issues, but used his time to harangue the CEOs about their companies’ alleged censorship of conservative viewpoints (an old saw that shows up every time Congress talks to tech)—particularly Google.
While questioning Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Jordan accused Google of siding with the World Health Organization over the American people, of backing Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and generally stifling conservatives’ access to information online.
It was a surprising stance from the congressman, given that Google gave $10,000 to his reelection campaign in 2020, and has been funding him every cycle going back to 2012, according to Federal Election Commission filings. In this hearing, the attack dog truly bit the hand that was feeding him.
Despite this, Jordan demanded a commitment from Pichai that Google would not “configure its search engine” to back Joe Biden in the election, and that Google would not use its search engine to silence conservatives.
The real fireworks started when Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), who spoke just after Jordan, said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to redirect your attention to antitrust law rather than fringe conspiracy theories.” Then Jordan exploded, demanding to address the jab from his colleague. He yelled, he waved his arms, he refused to put his mask back on and be quiet. (Google, by the way, contributed just $2,000 to Scanlon’s reelection campaign.)
Google’s contributions to Jordan’s reelection campaign are also noteworthy because of recent news about the congressman. Jordan has been accused of turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of student wrestlers during his time as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The allegations have earned Jordan his oft-used “Gym Jordan” moniker on social media.
Google didn’t immediately respond to the question of whether or not it intended to continue funding Jordan.
The antitrust subcommittee has been investigating the big tech companies for more than a year now, as have the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. But that hasn’t stopped some tech companies from continuing to give to the campaigns of congresspeople, including some on the antitrust subcommittee. The following chart shows the donations the big five tech companies have made to the 2020 reelection campaigns for each member of the House antitrust subcommittee.
For the 2020 election, Google donated to committee vice chair Joe Neguse (D-CO), Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Ken Buck (R-CO), W. Gregory Steube (R-FL), Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA). Ranking Republican member Jim Sensenbrenner is retiring from Congress, but Google donated to each of his congressional campaigns dating back to 2008. None of this money stopped Google from having to face hard questions about its monopoly power during Wednesday’s hearing.
Google isn’t the only big tech company donating to congresspeople on the subcommittee. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook have all made campaign contributions to at least one subcommittee member for the 2020 election cycle. Both Google and Microsoft have donated to seven different congresspeople who’ve been actively investigating anti-competitive practices.
Campaign donations are just part of a multi-pronged strategy big tech companies use to influence policy in the Capital. They also fund think tanks, some of which devise policy proposals for better ways to regulate competitive markets. Even though the antitrust committee members may end up writing new laws that directly affect the businesses of big tech companies, there’s nothing illegal about the campaign contributions. It’s how the system works.
For the tech companies, the dollar amounts of the campaign donations are small potatoes considering how much they make every quarter. There’s a symbolic value to them. The donations don’t buy easy treatment from lawmakers, and they don’t prevent the adoption of broadly supported regulations, but they can cause the voices of the donors to be heard more clearly in the midst of the debate.