Silicon Valley Campaign Cash Complicates Democrats’ Plan to Break Up Tech Giants

The stage is being set for Democrats to clash next year over a push to rein in Silicon Valley oligarchs. Earlier this month, House Democrats called for the break-up of major tech giants, but Democratic candidates in key Senate races are comfortably out-fundraising their Republican counterparts in campaign cash from the tech industry.

Earlier this month, after a lengthy investigation led by the House judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, Democratic lawmakers on the panel called for regulators to force significant divestment by U.S. tech giants.

“As they exist today, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook each possess significant market power over large swaths of our economy. In recent years, each company has expanded and exploited their power of the marketplace in anticompetitive ways,” said Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler of New York and Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline of Rhode Island in a joint statement summarizing the results of their inquiry.

The lawmakers also said that regulators should prevent dominant companies from buying competitors and firms with complementary products — i.e., they should reconsider Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, and Google’s purchase of YouTube.

However, Democratic candidates running for Senate seats in Maine, Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona and Iowa are all raising more money from Silicon Valley than their Republican incumbent opponents by a wide margin, according to the latest data from the Center for Responsive Politics. If all five win as they’re expected to, Democrats will take back majority control of the Senate, even if Republicans pick up a Senate seat in Alabama, as many observers are anticipating.

While Democrats are pulling in more campaign cash than Republicans across the board, in a trend driven by the unpopularity of President Trump, Republicans still maintain their money-raising advantage from employees in many key industries. Republicans in all the aforementioned races are taking in more donations from the finance industry, with the exception of Martha McSally (R-Arizona). And all five Republicans are raising more than their Democratic challengers from the agribusiness, defense and energy industries.

But the Democratic quintet likely to flip seats is raising much more, many times over, from people employed in communications and electronics: Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon has raised $3.68 million, while Sen. Susan Collins has raised $532,890; Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has raised $2.3 million, while Sen. Cory Gardner has raised $826,070; North Carolina State Sen. Cal Cunningham’s has raised $2.59 million, while Sen. Thom Tillis has raised $637,510; Iowa Senate hopeful Theresa Greenfield has raised $2.44 million, while Sen. Joni Ernst has raised $428,590; and former astronaut Mark Kelly has raised $3.96 million, while his opponent, Sen. Martha McSally, has raised $502,870.

What will this cash influx mean for Democrats’ future policy-making in relation to tech oligarchy?

The industry cash creates hurdles for House Democrats already facing an uphill battle in their initiative to break up big tech companies. Industry observers told MarketWatch this month that they already don’t expect a Biden administration to aggressively pursue antitrust cases. Biden himself has repeatedly told rich donors not to expect any real deviation from the status quo.

“No one’s standard of living will change. Nothing would fundamentally change,” Biden told attendees of one fundraising event last year. In June, he told donors at an event hosted virtually by Tony Jones, CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone, that corporate America needed to change, but that, “It’s not going to require legislation. I’m not proposing any.”

If he wins, however, Biden does look set to inherit landmark antitrust litigation against Google. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit on October 20 against the company, accusing it of illegally using “exclusionary agreements” to maintain its search engine monopoly. According to The Wall Street Journal, the case is set to drag on for years and could result in a court ordering Google to downsize.

But House Democrats are looking for the government to go even further. In addition to using their inquiry to target Facebook, Amazon and Apple for court ordered break-ups, they also urged regulators to take a much more aggressive stance toward examining mergers, saying that giant companies should be forced to prove that their acquisitions don’t hinder competition. The investigation also recommended that companies be restricted from selling their own products on their own marketplaces — a threat to the profits of Amazon and the obscene net worth of the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, the richest person on Earth.

“Our investigation leaves no doubt that there is a clear and compelling need for Congress and the antitrust enforcement agencies to take action that restores competition, improves innovation, and safeguards our democracy,” said Nadler and Cicilline.

Biden doesn’t seem to agree, however. And if he needed another excuse to protect tech behemoths being targeted by his colleagues in the House, he might have five of them next year: Democratic senators who accepted showers of campaign cash from Silicon Valley en route to flipping seats from Republicans in a wave election.