Josh Hawley: ‘Supposedly Libertarian’ Tech Groups Swamped in Google, Facebook Cash

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., questions Attorney General William Barr during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
P Photo/Susan Walsh

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) slammed “supposedly libertarian” and conservative groups Wednesday for taking money from Facebook and Google. These libertarian and conservative groups have attacked Hawley’s bill, which would “stop big tech’s assault on free speech.”

NBC News published an investigative report Wednesday which found that many of the libertarian and conservative groups that attacked Sen. Hawley’s legislation to end big tech censorship receive donations from Facebook and Google.

Hawley’s office said that the senator’s legislation, the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, would audit tech companies for potential political bias in their content moderation, would “stop big tech’s assault on free speech.”

In response to the NBC News report, Sen. Hawley said that these allegedly limited-government conservative and libertarian organizations are “fine” with big tech censorship because they receive money from Facebook and Google.

The Missouri conservative asked rhetorically, “Well, well — who is fine with Big Tech censoring conservatives? People paid by Big Tech. DC is awash in money from Google and Facebook. Economists, policy groups, supposedly libertarian outfits … all taking Google and Facebook money.”

NBC News’ report arises amidst rising interest in regulating and using antitrust against America’s most prominent technology companies in Washington, DC. The House Judiciary Committee launched a “top-to-bottom” investigation of big tech, while the Donald Trump DOJ said it will investigate Google for potential antitrust violations.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) grilled Google for their political bias last week in the wake of a Project Veritas report which revealed that one Google executive said that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) should not break up Google because smaller companies will “be charged with preventing the next Trump situation, it’s like a small company cannot do that.”

After Sen. Hawley proposed his legislation, many conservative and libertarian organizations lashed out the Missouri Republican.

TechFreedom, a tech-oriented Washington, said Hawley’s proposal would “set up a partisan blood match” between big tech companies and government regulators.

The libertarian R Street Institute said that the bill “hurts conservatives,” while the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), said it was “highly regulatory and should be rejected.”

The Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) all lambasted the legislation.

Cato called it the “latest potential disaster,” while AEI said the bill “would blow up the Internet.”

Americans for Prosperity said that they agree with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who worked with then Rep. Chris Cox (R-CA) to draft Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which many tech experts, such as former FCC Wireless Bureau chief Fred Campbell, contend that Section 230 allows social media companies to censor without significant legal recourse.

Despite many conservative groups’ contention that Hawley’s legislation would crack down on free speech, Wyden suggested in May that he wrote Section 230 in May so “Facebook and other companies can take down bad actors” The Oregon Democrat said that social media platforms need to do more to “weed” out alleged “hate.”

However, according to publicly available databases, every one of these conservative and libertarian organizations has received funding from Google, Facebook, or both of the tech giants.

Google, in its own words, provides “substantial funding” to the R Street Institute, Tech Freedom, and AEI. The search giant also donates to the National Review.

Google, as well as Facebook, backs the Competitive Enterprise Insitute.

Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, told NBC News, that these conservative groups have fought against big tech when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality; however, these big tech-backed tech conservative has moved to protect big tech.

“I’ve never seen pushback in such a fashion before,” Schilling explained. “Even with net neutrality, these groups were all over the place — even though Facebook and Google supported it. It’s safe to say that it’s largely due to pressure from the social media giants that hasn’t been seen before.”

Given that Facebook and Google donated to many of the most prominent conservative and libertarian groups in Washington, DC, it raises the question over whether these groups continue to fight big tech regulation due to their allegedly free-market values or whether they wish to continue soliciting donations from big tech.

Schilling contended that it remains hard not to suggest that Facebook and Google’s donations to conservative and libertarian groups play a factor in their opposition to the Hawley legislation.

Speaking of the conservative resistance against Hawley’s bill, Schilling said, “It’s a very tough case to make that the Facebook and Google money don’t play a factor in such a strong and united pushback on this issue.”

Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, told NBC News that the  “saw this kind of collective temper tantrum by all their trade groups was” was over the legislative battle aimed at tackled sex trafficking online.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson delivered a speech in June contending that Republican voters should rethink their relationship with many establishment conservative groups, especially given “they’ve now joined the leftwing campaign against free speech.”

Carlson charged:

Next month, the Charles Koch Institute will be holding a summit with the Anti-Defamation League and executives from major tech companies, including Pinterest, AirBNB, Patreon, and Mozilla. The stated purpose of the meeting is to formulate, quote: “best practices on the fight against hate and extremism online.” You know exactly what that really means: censorship of your views. For the left, fighting “extremism” always entails crushing normal conservatives. That’s why Pinterest has censored Live Action. It’s why Patreon banned Milo Yiannopoulos. It’s why Mozilla drove out Brendan Eich for donating to the wrong political campaign. Big tech has become a far bigger threat to your freedom than government is. The Kochs don’t care. Noting Google does violates libertarian orthodoxy.

Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told NBC News that Washington D.C.’s anti-tech environment has forced big tech to rally their bannermen to fight tech regulation and antitrust.

“Corporate-funded groups are always engaged in issues like this; have done so for many years,” Chester explained. “But clearly the stakes are higher now, because we have never ever had a time when serious regulation (privacy, antitrust) is on the agenda. And bipartisan. So [last month’s] reaction shows there are five-alarm bells ringing in D.C. from Google and Facebook that have galvanized the groups they support.”

Update — A previous version of this article indicated that Americans for Prosperity received money from Facebook through the State Policy Network. That is not the case, the group is not funded by Facebook or the State Policy Network.

Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.

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