The beleaguered tech sector has new advocacy muscle to run interference against Washington policymakers: the Chamber of Progress, a liberal advocacy coalition started by veteran Democratic aide and Google alumnus Adam Kovacevich.
The group says its mission is to “usher in a progressive high-tech future.”
But anti-Big Tech crusaders on the political left and right say the coalition is little more than the latest guise of the industry’s rapidly expanding lobbying footprint in Washington.
“The tech industry’s political honeymoon is over and everyone wants to make sure that tech operates fairly towards communities,” Mr. Kovacevich said in a statement. “We’ll support sensible rules that nurture the things that people love about technology while curbing tech’s downsides.”
The Chamber of Progress lists several prominent technology companies as partners, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Uber. The self-described “center-left” coalition said the tech partners will not sit on its board or have decision-making authority over its policies as it aims to play a defining role in technology regulation.
Liberal critics of the chamber’s partners say there is nothing progressive about the chamber. The American Economic Liberties Project, which favors breaking up large technology companies, said the chamber is a Big Tech front group designed to bamboozle lawmakers.
“They’ve long co-opted social justice language to camouflage their intentions, and this is yet another example of it,” said Sarah Miller, the executive director of the project.
Conservative critics of Big Tech are also skeptical of the group.
“Putting a ‘progressive’ face on the same monopolistic and bullying behavior doesn’t make it any better,” said Mike Davis, founder of the conservative Internet Accountability Project. “Democrats who claim to want changes in how Big Tech operates in this country should refuse to meet with or be influenced by this anti-progress Big Tech front group.”
Large tech companies typically have not needed masks to get things done in Washington, but their cozy relationships with politicians of all stripes changed ahead of the 2020 elections. Republican lawmakers say the tech platforms began to censor too much and consolidated too much power. Liberal lawmakers say the tech sector does not censor properly and that the government should exercise more control over the companies’ business.
Lawmakers and regulators are now debating how to crack down on Big Tech, including through antitrust action from the Biden administration or by stripping legal liability protections from the companies in laws enacted by Congress.
In response, the largest technology companies are spending huge sums on influencing lawmakers and campaign politics. The largest technology companies spent $124 million on lobbying and campaign contributions during the 2020 cycle, according to an analysis by Public Citizen, a liberal consumer rights advocacy group.
Public Citizen’s report showed that four tech giants — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — supplanted Big Oil and Big Tobacco as the dominant lobbying forces in the nation’s capital.
The tech sector’s money, however, can prove toxic. In October, the conservative Heritage Foundation rejected a $225,000 donation from Google and said it would return a $150,000 contribution from Facebook, in letters first obtained by Axios.
The Chamber of Progress does not share such qualms about working with tech to accomplish its policy agenda of economic, social and consumer progress.
The world’s largest business federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently spoke in support of more resources for federal antitrust agencies that could yield action against the tech sector, creating an opening for a group like the Chamber of Progress to promote Big Tech.
The group first pushed for congressional Democrats’ proposed voting rights overhaul, the For the People Act, Mr. Kovacevich said.
The coalition also wants state legislatures to reject “voter suppression proposals” and seeks “progressive taxation” policies.
“Instead of encouraging honest debates of ideas that are decided at ballot boxes, one party is unfortunately determined to change the rules,” said Mr. Kovacevich. “It’s time for federal action to ensure all Americans can vote easily — and to make our democracy stronger.”
Mr. Kovacevich formerly led Google’s U.S. public policy team and is the company’s seventh hire in Washington. He also worked as a Senate aide to Joe Lieberman. The chamber’s volunteer advisory board includes experienced Democratic aides and former advisers to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and President Obama, as well as state legislators in Colorado and New Jersey.
The chamber also shared a statement from Rep. Ami Bera, California Democrat, saying he was excited to get to work with the group.
Conservatives who have complained about the tech sector’s alliance with the political left say the group’s openly liberal leanings will backfire.
“I think the more overt Big Tech is about pushing a leftist agenda, the more it will unify the right against them,” said Dan Gainor, a vice president at the conservative-leaning Media Research Center, a media watchdog group. “By ripping off their mask of neutrality, they make our job easier, not harder.”
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