Tech Giants Join Corporate Reckoning Over Political Spending

 Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have joined a growing list of big banks and other major companies that are pausing their political spending following last week's violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

One after another, corporate responses have escalated. Some companies have suspended donations to lawmakers who objected to the certification of the presidential election. Many have halted all of their political donations for a few months. A few have gone so far as to support the removal of the president.

"The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy," said National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons, urging Vice President Pence to consider invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows removal of a president deemed unfit to serve.

Money-in-politics groups have welcomed this unusually widespread — and self-initiated — reckoning by corporations over their own role in contributing to the nation's current political state.

"You just can't really overemphasize the role that donors play in the current political calculation," said Meredith McGehee, executive director at Issue One, a nonprofit that works to reduce the influence of money in politics.

"In this moment of crisis, they sent a really important signal that the actions of the objectors were unacceptable ... because what they were doing was voting to overturn the will of the voters," McGehee said.

Facebook told NPR on Monday that it was pausing the spending of its political action committee for at least the first three months of the year, "while we review our policies."

Microsoft said it's assessing the implications of last week's events, adding: "The PAC regularly pauses its donations in the first quarter of a new Congress, but it will take additional steps this year to consider these recent events and consult with employees."

Indeed, right now — the start of the year right after an election is concluded — is when many companies conduct this kind of review of political spending anyway.

Also, public campaign spending by corporations is much more restricted than spending by super PACs and especially tax-exempt advocacy groups that don't disclose their donors. Plus, a lot of corporate money in American politics flows from individuals, corporate executives, and other employees.

Earlier, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup told reporters they would suspend all political donations. Airbnb, Comcast, and others said they were suspending PAC donations to Republicans who objected to the Electoral College vote. The newsletter Popular Information is tracking such corporate responses, also adding Marriott and BlueCross BlueShield to the list.

Similarly, Kansas City, Mo.-based Hallmark has asked Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Roger Marshall of Kansas to return $7,000 and $5,000, respectively, in employee donations from the last two years, according to The Kansas City Star.

"I think they have to take a look long and hard at what role has their political spending played in sort of the buildup to this crisis," said Bruce Freed, the head of the Center for Political Accountability.

"The question is — does this have staying power, or is it going to be a move of the moment?" Freed said. "What do they do in six months? ... Is this a real epiphany moment in terms of a change in how companies approach their political spending?"

Last week, Facebook suspended President Trump from both its main platform and Instagram indefinitely. Twitter has disabled Trump's account permanently.

Online merchant platform Shopify shut down two stores affiliated with the Trump Organization and Trump's campaign. The PGA of America's board of directors has voted to pull next year's PGA Championship from Trump's golf course in New Jersey.

Parler, the messaging app favored by far-right activists, has filed a lawsuit against Amazon Web Services alleging anti-trust and breach of contract. The company is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent Amazon from removing Parler from its servers.

Amazon had told Parler it would suspend its account at 11:59 p.m. PT Sunday. The website has been offline since that deadline passed.

"Over the past several weeks, we've reported 98 examples to Parler of posts that clearly encourage and incite violence," Amazon Web Services told a Parler representative on Saturday, according to court documents.

As an example, the web hosting service cited a message in which a Parler user commented on a photo from Wednesday's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, showing people cowering among seats in the gallery of the House chamber.

"Violence works," the photo's caption reads. "Make them afraid." To that, the user added, "How bout make them hang?"

In its court filing, Parler said it needs a temporary restraining order to prevent irreparable harm, citing free speech rights and damage to the company's reputation and competitive standing. The social media site also noted that Amazon Web Services recently signed a long-term deal with Twitter, helping one of Parler's competitors deliver millions of tweets.

When Twitter permanently banned President Trump, "conservative users began to flee Twitter en masse for Parler," the company said. "The exodus was so large that the next day ... Parler became the number one free app downloaded from Apple's App Store."

But on Saturday, Apple announced it was suspending Parler from its App Store, preventing users from downloading the app to their devices. One day earlier, Google removed the Parler app from its Play Store. On the same day Apple moved against Parler, Amazon said the conservative platform will need to find a new host.

Amazon says Parler has shown it doesn't have an effective way to comply with the web service company's terms of service and is still forming an approach to content moderation.

"This morning, you shared that you have a plan to more proactively moderate violent content, but plan to do so manually with volunteers," Amazon said on Saturday in an email to Parler's chief policy officer, Amy Peikoff.

"It's our view that this nascent plan to use volunteers to promptly identify and remove dangerous content will not work in light of the rapidly growing number of violent posts," the company said.

Parler filed its lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in the Western District of Washington. Rothstein was appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

The docket does not yet show a response from the judge or a scheduled hearing. The case is Parler LLC v. Amazon Web Services, Inc.

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