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SCIENCE & TECH: Republicans trash Chamber of Commerce over Big

SCIENCE & TECH: Republicans trash Chamber of Commerce over Big Tech lobbying

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The US Chamber of Commerce has jumped into the political fight over Big Tech — and the group’s staunch opposition to antitrust reform is alienating many Republicans in Congress, The Post has learned.

While America’s biggest and best-funded business lobby once enlisted Republicans to defend oil and tobacco companies against their Democratic foes, critics now say Big Tech funders including Meta, Google and Amazon are increasingly setting the group’s agenda.

Despite the 110 year-old Chamber’s considerable funding — including a $65 million lobbying budget in 2021 — more than a half dozen current and former Congressional Republican sources told The Post that the group’s influence has nosedived as the group has largely been frozen out of policy discussions since Donald Trump left office.

“I don’t think the Chamber has much, if any, juice with Republicans now at all,” one House GOP aide told The Post.

“The Chamber of Commerce takes a lot of money from Big Tech and so they diligently do their bidding,” said Mike Davis, a former top aide for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). “Today’s conservatives understand that corporate power is oftentimes even more oppressive than government power.” 

The Chamber also angered the GOP by endorsing a slate of moderate Democrats in 2020 and was banned from House Republican strategy calls last year in a spat over infrastructure.

Or as one Republican lobbyist put it: “The Chamber is in the wilderness.”

Suzanne P. Clark is the CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, which is funded in part by Google, Amazon and Meta.
US Chamber of Commerce

“Vetted by Google, Facebook and Amazon

In previous decades, many Republican staffers on Capitol Hill worked closely with the Chamber, which was often staffed by their own former colleagues.

“The Chamber — it’s a bunch of Republicans who work there — would call up Republican offices and say, ‘Hey, you’re one of us and here’s what the business community thinks should happen,’ ” one senior Senate staffer said, adding that Republicans often took “marching orders” from the group. 

That buddy-buddy relationship has frayed as Republicans have soured on Big Tech companies, which many accuse of censoring conservatives and unfairly squashing competition.

Google
“You know that whatever they’re telling you has been vetted by Google and Facebook and Amazon,” a senior GOP Senate staffer said. 
Getty Images

The Chamber says it represents hundreds of thousands of American businesses, but the group does not disclose how much funding it receives from each member. There is a perception among Republicans that Big Tech firms effectively control the group, backed up by the fact that executives from Meta and Microsoft sit on the Chamber’s board. In March, the Chamber’s government affairs team moved to a Capitol Hill office building also occupied by Google, as first reported by Protocol.

“You know that whatever they’re telling you has been vetted by Google and Facebook and Amazon,” the senior GOP Senate staffer said. 

(The Chamber doesn’t take funding from Apple, which left the group in 2009 over its opposition to legislation that would regulate greenhouse gas emissions.) 

Chamber of Commerce
Republican lawmakers used to take “marching orders” from the Chamber of Commerce — but no longer, according to one senior GOP senate staffer.
CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“Refusing to compromise

As rage against Big Tech brews among both Republicans and Democrats, bipartisan support has grown for a range of antitrust bills that supporters say would rein in the largest tech firms, including some proposals that would go as far as breaking up Big Tech companies.

But the Chamber has lobbied strongly against virtually all of the bills, including what is widely perceived as the most moderate proposal: Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2021, which would tweak federal court rules.

Under current law, antitrust lawsuits brought by states’ attorneys general in federal courts across the country can be combined with similar suits and consolidated into a single court — sometimes with a judge who may be more sympathetic to tech firms — against the wishes of the attorneys general. Lee’s bill would give attorneys general more power to keep their suits in their preferred courts.

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is one of the many Republican supporters of the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2021.
AP

The venue bill has garnered support from everyone from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX.) and the House Freedom Caucus, which includes GOP firebrands like Reps. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). 

Nonetheless, a Chamber spokesman told The Post the group remains opposed to the venue bill, warning that it “will not protect consumers but create a new, burdensome multi-state litigation process that will increase costs.”

“The Chamber’s advocacy against sweeping rewrites of antitrust bills at the federal and state levels reflects the deep concerns of our members from every sector of the economy,” the spokesman said, adding that the bills would impact every business sector — not just tech companies.

Meta
Executives from Meta and Microsoft sit on the Chamber of Commerce’s board.
REUTERS

Yet some Republicans think the Chamber’s attacks on even the most moderate legislation will backfire by leading legislators to embrace more radical alternatives.

“Big Tech and the Chamber are refusing to compromise, pushing people to be more extreme,” the senior GOP Senate staffer said. “There’s so much political energy focused against Big Tech that if it doesn’t get an outlet through something small, then people are going to go for way more drastic things.”

The House Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), supports the venue bill.
Getty Images

“No one takes them seriously

While battles over Big Tech have widened the gap between the GOP and the Chamber, the bad blood began when the Chamber endorsed 23 House Democrats in the 2020 election, in addition to 29 Republicans. At the time, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) claimed the group had “sold out.” 

Garret Ventry, a former chief of staff for antitrust backer and Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), told The Post that the Democratic endorsements left the group with “zero influence.” 

“No one takes them seriously — full stop,” Ventry said. “It’s not that they lost some of their credibility. They lost all of it.”

Conflict between the GOP and the Chamber intensified in 2021 when the Chamber lobbied heavily for President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was opposed by former President Donald Trump and other top Republicans. After the Chamber criticized the party’s top brass for whipping votes against the bill, House Republican leadership banned the group from strategy calls.

Hours after news of the Chamber’s ban broke, Axios reported that the Chamber had flip-flopped and pulled its support for the infrastructure bill — but the ban from GOP calls appears to still stand more than six months later.

Steve Scalise
A spokesperson for Rep. Steve Scalise told The Post the Chamber doesn’t “have any business being on Republican strategy calls.”
AP

Reached for comment for this story, a spokesperson for House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) told The Post, “We don’t think organizations who endorsed Democrats and are pushing key parts of Biden’s radical, inflation-fueling agenda have any business being on Republican strategy calls.” 

Asked about last year’s battles with the GOP, the chamber spokesman said, “The U.S. Chamber’s legislative strategy the past few years has yielded significant results, most notably the bipartisan infrastructure package is law and the tax-and-spend reconciliation bill is not.”



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