With help from Emily Birnbaum, John Hendel, Steven Overly and Rebecca Kern
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— Scoop: The country’s biggest business lobby is putting the squeeze on Senate Democrats to scrap parts of the social spending bill that would boost the FTC’s powers.
— What’s next for tech lobbying in Washington? The Internet Association’s undoing leaves a gaping hole in the D.C. tech policy landscape. Several contenders are already vying to fill that void.
— Race against the clock: Democrats are trying to fast-track the Senate confirmation of Alan Davidson to lead the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Will the GOP prevent that from happening before year’s end?
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MT SCOOP: CHAMBER OF COMMERCE ESCALATES FTC FIGHT — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is ratcheting up its crusade against the FTC. Members have in recent weeks accused FTC Chair Lina Khan of abusing the agency’s power and unfairly attacking American businesses. Now the group is taking its concerns to the Senate.
The chamber is firing off a letter to senators today to urge them to kill, as part of the Senate process known as reconciliation, portions of the Build Back Better Act, H.R. 5376 (117), that would grant the FTC more civil penalty authority. These provisions “would unfairly erode due process and would impose significant new costs on companies acting in good faith when serving consumers,” said the letter, which had almost 90 signatories, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the National Restaurant Association and Netchoice.
“At a time when the Commission has demonstrated willingness to exceed its authority, such a policy change would be highly detrimental to legitimate businesses because the FTC would become the lawmaker, prosecutor, judge, and jury all at once, where businesses may never know which of their practices may later be adjudged to be illegal,” the authors wrote. They added that smaller shops would bear the brunt of the FTC’s actions, often without the resources to fight them.
— Throwing more money at it: The chamber is also launching a six-figure ad campaign today to publicize what its members see as wrongdoing by the FTC. They hope the blitz will catch the attention of Senate Finance and Senate Commerce Committee lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Even so, expect the FTC to keep putting up a fight. Khan’s agency will not “back down because corporate lobbyists are making threats,” spokesperson Lindsay Kryzak said last month in response to the chamber launching its offensive. “We will continue to do our job and stand up for consumers, honest businesses, workers and entrepreneurs who deserve a fair marketplace.”
— Speaking of the FTC: The agency holds its December open meeting today, with only one item on the agenda: a rulemaking to bar government and business impersonation, something that’s a leading source of scams. Republican Christine Wilson, who has repeatedly said she doesn’t support the FTC adopting new rules, will be the commissioner to watch. But if she were to make an exception for this issue — which has generally garnered bipartisan support in the past — it could suggest that Wilson, a noted privacy hawk, might also soften on other issues, such as an FTC privacy rulemaking next year.
GROUPS VIE FOR IA’S SPOT — Who will speak for the internet industry, when the Internet Association dissolves at year’s end?
The association, which was making millions of dollars in revenue as recently as 2019 and branded itself as the “unified voice of the internet economy,” had been steadily growing less influential on Capitol Hill amid paralyzing disputes among its members. But its formal death, scooped Tuesday by Emily, could signal a larger trend in Washington: internet companies competing so fiercely that they struggle to find any consensus. The tech policy landscape is fracturing, as small companies band together against the big ones and partisan tech groups gain greater prominence.
— Small vs. big: The big tech companies have been beefing up their government affairs offices in recent years, taking a go-it-alone approach and agitating against one another as congressional efforts to rein in the power of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple heat up.
— Breakdowns: There’s a partisan breakdown happening in tech policy as well: the left-leaning Chamber of Progress and right-leaning NetChoice both represent the major tech companies, but they focus their advocacy on their own respective sides of the aisle, reflecting larger partisan splits in Washington. They believe they could replace IA by working together on certain issues. “While there is stark political division in Washington, NetChoice’s work with allies like Chamber of Progress can ensure conflicting concerns raised by lawmakers about tech will be addressed,” said Robert Winterton, director of public affairs with NetChoice.
— The battle begins: TechNet, which counts Apple, Amazon and Google among its members alongside a cadre of smaller tech companies, is also vying to fill the vacuum. “We have 12 of the Internet Association members as a part of TechNet,” said Linda Moore, TechNet’s president. “I do expect that there’s a good possibility that more of the Internet Association members will come to TechNet just as ones before them have that align with our policy principles.”
The president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, Matt Schruers, said CCIA has always championed “competition policy that advances consumer’s interests, in the U.S. and abroad.”
— More diffuse than ever: There’s an “alphabet soup” of tech trade groups, each representing different slivers of the complicated industry, said Stewart Verdery, CEO and founder of Monument Advocacy, which counts Alphabet, Amazon and Netflix as clients.
“IA was created because there wasn’t a voice for the pure internet app economy,” Verdery said. “There’s some trade groups [that] are more obviously positioned to take up some of the slack, like NetChoice or CCIA. But there’s still a gap.”
— Eyeballs watching emoji: Days after news broke of its departure from IA, Microsoft added a new outside lobbying firm to its long list already on retainer, according to a newly filed lobbying disclosure. The company retained Menda Fife of FifeStrategies at the beginning of December, POLITICO’s Caitlin Oprysko reports. Fife, a former Senate Appropriations staffer, will lobby on policies and funding for the military’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System and quantum technologies, the filing shows. Microsoft, which spent nearly $9.5 million on federal lobbying last year, currently retains more than two dozen other lobbying firms.
A NEW NTIA CHIEF BY NEW YEAR’S? — Senate Democrats hope to tuck Davidson’s nomination into an end-of-session nominations package, according to Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). That would allow senators to confirm him by a voice vote as soon as this week, depending on when senators leave town.
— “We would definitely like to see that happen,” Cantwell told John on Wednesday, describing hope that Republicans “clear the decks on some of these people.” She called Davidson “a real talent” and said he “represents somebody who needs to get about a very important task” (AKA: rolling out $48 billion in broadband infrastructure money).
— One unknown is whether Republicans will try to block this plan. A trio of GOP senators — Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Rick Scott of Florida — asked to be recorded as no votes during Davidson’s Wednesday committee vote, a sign of at least some discontent (more for Pros here). But even if Republicans object to a voice vote, Democrats could use floor time to schedule a formal roll-call vote to confirm Davidson if they stick around long enough — no one is clear on when they’ll wrap, including Cantwell.
“I don’t anticipate holding him up on the floor,” Thune told reporters, although noted he’s still mulling whether he’ll object. He called his committee vote “a message” about how Davidson answered a written question about whether to impose net neutrality obligations on broadband grantees (Davidson essentially dodged, saying he doesn’t know what NTIA staff are thinking). Scott’s office associated his Davidson objections with his larger blockade of Commerce and Transportation department nominees over unrelated supply chain concerns.
— One new boost: Eight former NTIA leaders, including Republicans like David Redl and Meredith Attwell Baker and Democrats like Larry Irving and Larry Strickling, on Wednesday urged Senate leaders to confirm Davidson.
SPEAKING OF NOM DRAMA — That one-on-one meeting Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) was trying to schedule with FCC nominee Gigi Sohn, as John reported was in the works last week, is apparently happening Friday. Rosen is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has yet to schedule a vote on Sohn.
— “We’re going to talk with her on Friday,” Rosen told reporters. “I want to be sure she’s going to represent Nevadans, particularly our minority communities, our locally owned stations. Of course net neutrality [is] extremely important to me as well. We’re going to continue to ask the questions and be sure that Nevadans’ best interests are at heart.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), another committee member, announced that he backs Sohn, saying that she understands rural broadband challenges and that “it’s critically important we have a fully functioning FCC.”
TECH QUOTE DU JOUR: A WARNING FROM EUROPE — European Commission vice president Věra Jourová has a warning for the United States: Just as Europe is sensitive to language about violence and hate because of its own history, the U.S. needs to learn from the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“We have to catch the trend that the violence and aggression is on the rise, and we have to do something against that,” the European leader said Wednesday at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington, adding that the wars of the 20th century started with words. “I hope I don’t sound paranoid or even apocalyptic, but in [the] U.S. I met people who said ‘Yes, we understand in Europe you must be careful,’” she said. But because “we saw what happened in [the] Capitol in January this year — I think America, also, should pay attention to these matters.”
Ashok Pinto, former senior adviser to the U.S. executive director of the World Bank, is now director of the intellectual property policy group at Intel. … Yogesh Badwe, who was previously senior director of information security at Okta, was named chief security officer for Druva. … Amrita Ahuja, chief financial officer at Block (formerly Square), has joined Airbnb’s board of directors. … Zoom has joined the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, an industry coalition focused on combating terrorist and extremist content on digital platforms. … Katie Haun, a co-chair of Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto funds, is leaving the Silicon Valley tech venture capital firm to start her own shop.
Investigating Children’s Health Defense: “How a Kennedy built an anti-vaccine juggernaut amid Covid-19,” via the AP.
One to watch: Biometric tech company Clear, which was first known for scanning faces at airports and then expanded into health care during the pandemic, and is now moving into retail, WSJ reports.
Opinion: “AWS is Too Big to Fail,” Corey Quinn writes in The Information.
Shape up or ship out: “Google has told its employees they will lose pay — and will eventually be fired — if they don’t comply with the company’s Covid-19 vaccination policy,” CNBC reports.
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