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Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony is the biggest test for Facebook’s lobbying power

Published Apr 10th, 2018 2:43PM EDT
Mark Zuckerberg hearing today at Senate Committee
Image: Kevin Wolf/AP/REX/Shutterstock

At 2:15PM today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg began making his long-awaited appearance on Capitol Hill to answer questions from lawmakers. Given the current scandals swirling around Facebook and Zuckerberg’s infamous dislike for brown-nosing politicians, it’s easy to frame the hearing as an adversarial trial-by-fire for the Facebook founder.

But according to analysis of lobbying records by USA Today, Facebook may have more of a home-field advantage than first meets the eye. Members of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees, which are having the joint hearing with Zuckerberg today, are among the biggest recipients of campaign contributions from Facebook and its employees.

Combined, the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Commerce Committee have received $604,000 in campaign contributions from Facebook’s political action committee and Facebook employees since 2007, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets tool. Members of the Commerce Committee received $369,000 in contributions, while members of the Judiciary Committee members received $235,000.

In a blog post last year, Facebook explained its criteria for backing a candidate:

In deciding which federal candidates to support, Facebook PAC considers whether an individual candidate’s policy stances are consistent with Facebook’s public policy agenda and business interests, particularly the individual’s commitment to fostering innovation and an open Internet. We also consider whether Facebook has a presence in a candidate’s district or state, whether a candidate works on policy issues that are relevant to Facebook, and whether the candidate holds a key committee or leadership position.

Where permitted by law, Facebook may contribute to candidates for state office, with the goal of promoting a more open and connected world. Our Vice President of US Public Policy oversees these contributions with the assistance of a cross-functional team that includes representatives from Facebook’s Public Policy, Communications, and Legal departments. State political activity is conducted in compliance with applicable disclosure laws, including the timely filing of required reports.

Over the last 12 years, contributions have totaled over $7 million dollars to candidates for federal office. That figure is significant, but it’s also dwarfed by the amount that Facebook spends directly lobbying the government. Since 2009, the company has spent over $52 million on lobbying activities to try and further its agenda in Washington.