Twitter joins Washington’s influence economy, forms PAC

August 9, 2013

Twitter on Friday became an official member of Washington’s influence economy, with the formation of a political action committee and the appointment of its first registered lobbyist.

The seven-year-old privately held company said it wants to put a bigger priority on its interaction with members of Congress as they grapple with major policy and political issues related to free speech on the Internet, government surveillance of communications, and copyright and patent law reform.

The company said its PAC, to be named Twitter#PAC, and an in-house lobbyist will help it campaign for its policy objectives in Washington. The PAC will allow the firm to pool donations for its causes.

“We expect to continue to play an active role in speaking up on issues related to Internet freedom, government access to user data, patent reform and freedom of expression,” Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser said in a statement.

The firm, along with Google and other tech companies, has called for greater transparency from federal spy agencies. Twitter has criticized the secrecy shrouding the requests the government makes of tech companies when officials want them to assist in surveillance efforts, saying non-disclosure rules should be lifted.

Twitter, with 200 million active users, has viewed itself as a “digital town square.” It has challenged old media as a platform for breaking news and has provided a forum for people to express virtually anything — provided they can type it in 140 characters. But it also has drawn harsh criticism from Britain and other nations for being too permissive of hate speech.

The company has actively supported open Internet policies at the Federal Communications Commission and fought against 2011 legislation to hold companies liable for pirated content that appears on their sites.

Competitors Microsoft, Facebook and Google have active PACs that have helped the firms widen their connections with members of Congress.

Microsoft’s PAC donations to politicians totaled $2.2 million in 2012, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Facebook, which had PAC donations of $277,000 in 2012, has drawn heavily from former Obama and Bush administration officials for its Washington office.

Between 2011 and 2012, Google’s PAC donated $313,500 to Republican majority members of the House and $262,000 to Democrats. The firm, which was resistant to forming a PAC in the early 2000s, hired former congresswoman Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) to head its lobbying and policy operations last year.

In contrast, Twitter still has a relatively small operation in Washington.

William Carty, a policy manager for Twitter, will become a registered lobbyist and continue to work from the firm’s D.C. office. Carty joined Twitter in September 2012 after a decade of serving as an aide to Republican members on both the Senate and House commerce committees.

Nu Wexler was named Friday as Twitter’s D.C.-based spokesman on policy and political issues. He previously served as a spokesman for Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

The company hasn’t clarified its precise role in government spy programs that rely on the cooperation of technology companies.

But Twitter has been lauded for its general policy of trying to notify users of law enforcement requests. The firm also has said that in 2011 it told Justice Department officials that it would not hand over information about users related to a government investigation of WikiLeaks without a court order. Last year, it appealed an order by a U.S. District Court judge in New York to hand over records of a Twitter user associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

But the company also has faced criticism over its privacy practices.

Twitter in 2010 reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission on charges that it did not adequately protect the privacy of its users after account passwords were hacked.

Follow The Post’s new tech blog, The Switch, where technology and policy connect.

Cecilia Kang is a national technology reporter, writing about tech and Internet policies at the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission and how regulations affect businesses and consumers.
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