- Big Tech is playing defense in the nation's capital as the Trump administration and Congress scrutinize the biggest companies on a slew of issues ranging from data privacy and security to antitrust concerns.
- The CEOs of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple testified virtually in late July before the U.S. House's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law. The Democrat-led panel is nearing the end of a year-long probe into whether the companies have too much control over the market or unfairly edged out competitors.
- It's a dizzying time full of uncertainty and high stakes — a perfect time for this Insider list of the tech industry's most important lobbyists, lawmakers, regulators, and policy figures stationed in Washington.
- Giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook have snapped up alumni from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to navigate the fast-changing playing field. Some have actually been expanding their footprint in DC for years.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Big Tech is finding Washington to be an unfriendly place during the Donald Trump era.
Several major companies are under congressional or federal scrutiny. Executives once praised as American innovators are now accused of building platforms and services that undermine competition, privacy, and free speech.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties use major tech and and social media companies as rhetorical punching bags. Trump himself has weaponized the major social media platforms to advance disinformation and attack his enemies while at the same time using them as political foils.
The stakes are big. In late July, the House Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee grilled the leadership of Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple as part of a year-long probe into whether the companies have too much control over the market or unfairly edged out competitors.
While the most famous names in the industry — think Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos — often draw the most scrutiny and attention in Washington, behind the scenes their companies and others have planted roots in DC by hiring small armies of lobbyists, public policy experts and communications professionals. Congressional staffers and former senior aides in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations are particularly hot commodities.
To help navigate this increasingly cut-throat world, Insider put together this guide of the most important people at the intersection of tech, politics, and policy in Washington.
We'll continue to update this list throughout the year.
(Is there someone we should include in this article? Contact [email protected])
Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy at Facebook
Kaplan's Washington connections were cast into the spotlight when he showed up in October 2018 to support his good friend Brett Kavanaugh during a Senate hearing on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegations against the Supreme Court nominee.
His presence at the hearing sparked internal outrage at the social network, though Kaplan didn't back down. He even threw a party for Kavanaugh after the confirmation vote.
Kaplan joined Facebook in 2011 as one of the company's most high-profile Republican operatives. He served in the George W. Bush White House, where he overlapped with Kavanaugh, and also clerked for Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in 1999.
At Facebook, Kaplan's role has become increasingly important as the company addresses the reckoning that its platform was used as a pipeline for disinformation and foreign interference during the 2016 presidential campaign. It's also faced calls for regulation from the Trump administration and allies who believe that Silicon Valley is biased against conservatives.
Kaplan has advocated against algorithm and moderation changes that would have undercut conservative publishers and users, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reported.
Karan Bhatia, vice president of government affairs and public policy at Google
Bhatia has led Google's DC office and its policy division since 2018. He joined at a tumultuous time for the company as Congress and regulators placed increasing scrutiny on Silicon Valley titans.
In July 2019, Senate lawmakers from both parties grilled Bhatia over Google's algorithm and advertising practices. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz demanded to know if the company's leadership leaned "left or right?" Bhatia responded that the company wasn't politically biased.
A lawyer by training, Bhatia spent six years in the Bush administration, with stints at the Commerce and Transportation departments before Bush appointed him deputy US trade representative in 2006. He led negotiations for the US – Korea Free Trade Agreement. After the Bush years, Bhatia joined General Electric for a decade as a top public policy official, before making the switch to Google in 2018.
Jay Carney, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Amazon
President Barack Obama's former press secretary joined Amazon in 2015 as its top spokesman and now leads the DC policy shop and a team of in-house lobbyists. He's also in charge of all corporate communications.
Amazon's lobbying spending has skyrocketed in recent years as the company faced pressure from both the left and the right. Politicians as ideologically divergent as Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took the trillion-dollar company to task on everything from its labor practices to CEO Jeff Bezos' ownership of the Washington Post, which has relentlessly investigated the Trump administration.
As Amazon seeks to become the purveyor of everything, it must deal with an ever-growing list of industries, regulations, and federal agencies. The online retail giant is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and House of Representatives for possible antitrust activity.
Carney's career path has been somewhat unexpected. He started out as a journalist, including a 20-year stint writing for Time Magazine.
Fred Humphries, corporate vice president for US government affairs at Microsoft
Microsoft has a long history in Washington; its founder, Bill Gates, was famously one of the first tech titans to testify before Congress in 1998. It didn't go too well.
Two years later, Fred Humphries joined Microsoft as its director of state governmental affairs and helped craft its strategy for reaching out to public officials. He had a successful career in politics before joining Microsoft, serving as an aide to former Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-MO) and chief of staff to Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), and southern political director for the Democratic National Committee.
Humphries became Microsoft's corporate vice president for US government affairs in 2015, and he's now the company's policy chief and top lobbyist in Washington. He directs its policy initiatives both internally and externally on a host of issues, including trade, privacy, cloud computing, and cybersecurity.
Monique Meche, Vice President, Global Public Policy and Philanthropy at Twitter
Several of the companies on this list have come under the president's ire, but none has poked Trump this year quite like Twitter.
The platform has taken a more aggressive stance against Trump's frequent 280-character bites of disinformation, slapping warning labels on some inflammatory tweets or fact checks beneath others. Unsurprisingly, Trump has been incensed, yet he continues to tweet apace. The social network's moves also led to pressure on its rival, Facebook, to add similar warnings to Trump's most incendiary posts.
Into this fray comes Monique Meche, Twitter's newly minted top employee in Washington with a resume full of public policy roles at some of the country's most prominent tech companies, including Netflix, Amazon, and Waymo, Google's self-driving car subsidiary.
At Twitter, Meche oversees its worldwide public policy, philanthropy, and government efforts. Her DC office also provides training and support to lawmakers who use the platform to communicate with the public.
Nicole Isaac, senior director of North America policy at LinkedIn
Isaac heads up LinkedIn's public policy initiatives and manages outreach to federal and state governments. She's been with the company for more than five years, rising through the ranks of its policy team until taking the lead in 2018.
Before she went to work for the internet's premier professional networking site, Isaac worked at the White House during the Obama administration. She was a special assistant to the president for legislative affairs, working as a liaison between the White House and Congress on a host of policy issues. She'd also worked as a legislative aide for Vice President Joe Biden.
Tim Powderly, director of federal government affairs at Apple
Apple's top lobbyist, Cynthia Hogan, recently departed the tech powerhouse to join her old boss Joe Biden's presidential campaign and advise the presumptive Democratic nominee as he vets potential running mates.
Stepping into the top Apple DC role is Tim Powderly, a longtime company executive and former top Democratic staffer on House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Powderly served as the congressional panel's senior counsel before joining Apple in 2011.
Powderly often responds to lawmaker's inquiries about the company, most recently from Democratic Senators with concerns about the security of Apple's new COVID-19 screening tools.
Like many of its peers, Apple faces policy battles on multiple fronts, including an antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission as well as a separate inquiry from the House. Apple has also tangled with the federal government over encryption, government access to user data, and requests to unlock iPhones of mass shooting suspects.
Michael Beckerman, vice president and head of US public policy at TikTok
TikTok has become the country's hottest new app, with its primarily young creators going viral for their synchronized dances and presidential lip syncs. With all that attention has come increased scrutiny.
The Trump administration and some Republican lawmakers believe that behind the whimsical veneer lies a national security threat — a claim the company denies.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance Inc., a China-based internet company, and some Republican officials are worried about the security of user data and influence from Beijing. In November 2019, the US government opened an investigation of ByteDance following its acquisition of another popular app. More recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration was "looking into" shutting down TikTok in the US and GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida tweeted that the app "should not exist" and "patriots should delete it."
The Democratic National Committee has also warned campaigns and staff about downloading TikTok onto their personal devices.
Enter Michael Beckerman, the longtime head of the Internet Association trade group, who TikTok hired in February to lead its budding D.C. bureau.
Beckerman has a track record of advocating for internet policy. As president of the Internet Association, he helped represent internet titans like Twitter, Amazon, and Facebook in the public policy sphere. The trade group deals with a host of policy concerns revolving around privacy, copyrights, and more.
He's also a former top GOP aide on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and in 2019 testified before Congress to advocate for national data privacy laws. The Capitol Hill experience will come in handy should lawmakers call for the company to appear before them in the future.
Jon Berroya, interim president and CEO of the Internet Association
Berroya took the helm of the Internet Association from Beckerman, who left earlier this year to join TikTok.
The leading internet lobbying group has swelled to more than 40 members, which include heavy hitters like Doordash, Zillow, Reddit, Twitter, Microsoft and Lyft. The Internet Association advocates for policy positions on a range of issues facing its companies, including federal laws governing user privacy and copyright law.
In June, Berroya testified before the Senate Judiciary's subcommittee on intellectual property on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's Section 512, which protects websites from liability if their users post material that infringes on copyrights.
Victoria Espinel, CEO of BSA, the Software Alliance
What the Internet Alliance is for internet companies, the Software Alliance is for…well, software. The trade group counts companies like IBM, Slack, and Salesforce among its members and advocates for its members' interests on copyright, cybersecurity, privacy, artificial intelligence, and more.
During the Bush administration, Espinel was a US trade representative focused on intellectual property and innovation, and later joined Obama's White House as his adviser on intellectual property.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
Though technology policy is now regulated through multiple agencies, the FCC is the big one. As chairman, Pai has a great deal of power over how the government approaches and regulates the internet and providers.
Pai joined the FCC as an Obama appointee in 2012, but it was Trump's decision to elevate him to chairman in 2017 that thrust him into the spotlight. Pai's appointment sparked controversy, with supporters of net neutrality — the principle that internet providers must allow traffic to flow equally and not throttle it based on website or price — viewing him as a death knell for their cause.
At the end of that year, the FCC officially scrapped their net neutrality rules.
Under Pai, the FCC is also occupied with building up the nation's 5G infrastructure. And in June, the FCC designated Chinese telecom companies Huawei and ZTE as national security threats due to their ties to the Chinese government, Pai said.
Joseph Simons, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission
The FTC also handles some of the government's most pressing technology issues.
In February, it opened a major antitrust investigation into mega-companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet. The agency's five commissioners requested that these companies disclose information on their acquisitions dating back to 2010.
Facebook, in particular, has been in the agency's crosshairs. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal from the 2016 presidential election, the FTC slammed the social network with an unprecedented $5 billion — yes, billion, with a "b" — fine for its failure to protect users' privacy. The FTC also demanded that Facebook must conduct a privacy review of new products and place more stringent guardrails on third parties that seek to use its data. In July 2019, Facebook disclosed on an earnings call that the FTC had launched an antitrust investigation into the company.
Simons has made a lengthy career as an expert in antitrust issues in both the public and the private sector. In the late 1980s, he rose up the ranks at the FTC's Bureau of Competition and served as its chair from 2001-2003. Before Trump nominated him to lead the FTC in 2017, Simons was a partner at the mega-lawfirm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where he also handled antitrust cases.
The FTC has four additional commissioners who each have a pivotal say over the industry: Noah Joshua Phillips, Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, and Christine S. Wilson.
Rep. David Cicilline
The New York Times recently called Cicilline "Big Tech's Biggest Threat", and for good reason. As Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subpanel on antitrust, commercial and administrative law, he has the authority to investigate the major tech companies.
And he's using it.
At the Rhode Island congressman's direction in June 2019, the House launched a wide ranging probe of potential antitrust activity by companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.
The subcommittee has since held a series of hearings, including an October 2019 session with antitrust experts to examine how major tech companies' business practices affect consumer privacy.
California Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo
The Silicon Valley-area Democratic representatives have played a big role in shaping policy around data security, innovation, and government surveillance.
Both deal with a wide range of tech policy issues like privacy, data security, and surveillance through their committee assignments. Eshoo serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on communications and technology, and is a co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Internet Caucus. Lofgren has been a longtime supporter of government surveillance reform and establishing better rules for how the U.S government can collect Americans' data.
In October, the two Democrats unveiled the Online Privacy Act, a bill that seeks to create a federal agency to protect users' data and privacy, creates user rights, and compels technology companies to improve how they protect people's information. However, it is still stuck in committee.
Sen. Josh Hawley
The 40-year old freshman Republican senator has made policing Big Tech and the social media platforms one of his signature issues. His primary target is TikTok, the video sharing and editing app that has become America's meme factory du jour. Hawley and other conservatives see it as a potential national security threat.
Hawley has introduced bills that would ban federal employees from using TikTok and another directs the secretary of state to launch a review of how foreign apps such as TikTok use Americans' data and also limit that use.
But the Missouri senator's rhetorical broadsides — he's seen as a potential 2024 presidential contender once Trump is out of politics — haven't yet translated into effective policy. His bills are nowhere close to becoming law, though they are translating into headlines for Hawley and pressure for TikTok, which may find itself joining its peers in a Capitol Hill hearing room.
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