Payne Capital Management President Ryan Payne and Bullseye American Ingenuity Fund portfolio manager Adam Johnson joined ‘Mornings with Maria’ to assess Big Tech earnings.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan appeared before lawmakers on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government this week to discuss her agency’s request for increased funding in the next fiscal year.
The request, officially made as part of President Biden’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget, would provide the FTC with $590 million in spending power, a roughly 37% increase from the $430 million budget the agency had in FY 2023.
"This is once again a significant funding level for an independent agency that has received yearly increases. Requests of this magnitude must be explained and justified thoroughly," said Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), who chairs the subcommittee.
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Womack stated that he, along with other Republicans, have concerns about current operations at the FTC.
"Questions of whether the FTC is performing its critical mission of protecting consumers and promoting competition appropriately need to be asked … the FTC, with a cavalier attitude, is weighing in on areas that are outside of its authority and deciding on issues through subjective means," the congressman added.
FTC Commissioner nominee Lina M. Khan testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on the nomination of Former Senator Bill Nelson to be NASA administrator, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 21, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS / Reuters)
The request comes at a critical juncture for the agency as bipartisan efforts ramp up on Capitol Hill to target Big Tech giants.
"We are not keeping pace with the demands of our expansive mission, which is why the FTC has requested $590 million in FY 2024," Khan said during her prepared testimony.
"As evidenced by our creation earlier this year of an Office of Technology, we are focused on the need to be forward-looking in anticipating problems and taking swift action," Khan remarked.
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Republicans broadly concede tackling Big Tech is a critical issue but are also wary of giving the FTC too much power.
"The FTC’s request for increased funding is analogous to giving gasoline and a lighter to an arsonist," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said in a statement to Fox Business.
"It would be irresponsible for Congress to grant the agency’s request for more taxpayer money so the FTC can continue engaging in the very regulatory activism that caused the last remaining Republican commissioner to resign rather than participate in the willful disregard of Congress’s limits on the FTC’s powers."
Committee member Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questions witness Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Russia’s actions during the war with Ukraine, Wednesday, April 19, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. ((AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) / AP Newsroom)
Meantime, as the FTC seeks to increase their budget, Big Tech lobbying on Capitol Hill continues to surge at unprecedented levels.
Apple, Amazon, Meta and Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. spent a combined roughly $227 million on lobbying alone between 2019 and 2022, according to financial disclosures.
Those Big Tech giants lobby mainly through DC-based groups, such as the Chamber of Progress, a progressive advocacy group that counts "content moderation" as a cornerstone issue on its website and additionally lists Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and Zillow among its corporate partners.
The lobbying isn’t contained to one side of the political aisle, however, with other groups also receiving money from Big Tech.
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The American Edge Project (AEP) for example – a middle of the road group reportedly bankrolled by Meta – spent over $34 million in 2020 according to financial documents viewed by Fox Business.
AEP’s writes positively about technology on their website, stating, "technology companies play a key role in protecting our country’s national security interests … technology companies have worked toward a more connected and tolerant world and helped protect the fundamental right of freedom of openness and expression from foreign government threats."
On the other side of the battle, groups such as News Media Alliance, Fight For The Future and the Internet Accountability Project spent more than $125,000,000 between 2019 and 2021 in support of antitrust legislation that would rein in Big Tech, according to financial documents.
Google parent Alphabet and its cohort still innovate, but with incremental enhancements to existing products. (Reuters / Reuters Photos)
This all comes as lawmakers struggle to determine the next steps as progress on the issue appears to be stalled.
While the bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Online Act was introduced in Congress in 2021, the bill failed to reach either floor for a vote after its approval by both the House and Senate Judiciary Committee’s, frustrating the bill's supporters.
For now, lawmakers acknowledge the challenge lobbyists in the Big Tech sphere pose but are determined to maintain course.
"We’ve seen, especially in the tech policy space, that they have an army of lobbyists, that they have many former congressional staffers, they have a lot of people online to poke holes, [and] they have lots of allies," conceded Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), who introduced The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act alongside Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL), and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) on Wednesday.
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"Every tech policy bill that gets proposed – there are think tanks and lobbyists and others who whisper in the ears and say, ‘what about this and what about that?’ And we have no doubt that that will occur on this bill, but this is a pretty straightforward proposition," the Hawaiian senator said, referring to his own bill.