“Those of us who are trying to reform the technology industry have two choices,” McNamee said in an interview. “We can scream from the cheap seats, or we can participate in the process.”
“We’re trying to signal with this event that there are viewpoints out there — that are not coming from industry — that deserve a place at the table,” he added.
Each of Biden’s fundraising hosts has long called on the federal government to regulate or, in some cases, break up Big Tech companies out of a concern they threaten competition and consumers alike. But their late-October fundraising push reflects the increasingly high election-year stakes for any actions targeting Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google. A deadly pandemic, a historic economic collapse and a slew of issues like health care and climate change may dominate the national discourse, but the winner of the 2020 race also stands to inherit significant, unresolved debates about the future of the Internet as well.
Four years after Russia weaponized social media, spreading disinformation widely, many sites and services are still conduits for a wide array of harmful content. Democrats and Republicans generally agree that Facebook, Google and other major tech companies should be held liable for failing to police their platforms, but they continue to war over the nature of any such reform. The industry remains largely unfettered in its drive to amass more data about Americans’ online activities after years of failed attempts to craft a national privacy law — even in the face of massive recent scandals.
Those debates could fall again to President Trump or anew to Biden, who has sent a few early signals about his agenda for the tech industry. Last week, for example, his campaign railed against corporate consolidation after the U.S. government sued Google over violations of federal antitrust law.
“While we will not comment on specific lawsuits and companies, Vice President Biden has long said that one of the greatest sins is the abuse of power,” said spokesman Bill Russo in a statement. “And growing economic concentration and monopoly power in our nation today threatens our American values of competition, choice, and shared prosperity.”
The Democratic candidate also has been highly critical of Facebook, repeatedly swiping at the social-networking giant for allowing falsehoods about the election and the coronavirus to go viral as voters cast their ballots and public-health experts seek to stave off the pandemic.
The campaign declined to comment on its fundraising.
Biden’s comments have hardly dented his support in Silicon Valley, which historically has donated to Democrats in droves. The former vice president has benefited so far from nearly $12 million in total contributions from the Internet industry, according to data compiled this month by the Center for Responsive Politics. The amount reflects donations from corporate political action committees as well as tech executives and engineers, either to Biden’s campaign or a network of Democratic groups that support him. Trump, in contrast, has collected less than half a million dollars from Internet-industry PACs and other donors, the center’s data shows.
Amid the cash deluge, some of the country’s foremost voices on antitrust also have sought to pad Biden’s coffers in recent months. Rep. David N. Cicilline (R.I.), the top Democrat on the House’s foremost antitrust committee, held a fundraiser for Biden this year at which he blasted Silicon Valley for putting the country at risk. In October, a handful of former Justice Department officials — including Bill Baer, who served as the top competition watchdog under former president Barack Obama — held their own “antitrust division alumni” fundraiser for Biden, according to an Oct. 7 invite. Baer declined to comment.
The fundraiser this Tuesday is a digital gathering featuring streamed speeches from the likes of Warren. The Massachusetts Democrat has advocated fiercely for the breakup of Amazon, Facebook, Google and other large companies, promising as a candidate during the 2020 Democratic primary campaign that she would take aim against corporate consolidation if elected president. Joining her is Cicilline, whose involvement comes weeks after his panel issued a report calling for a massive overhaul to federal antitrust laws. Cicilline’s office declined to comment, and Warren’s campaign aides pointed to her past efforts to raise money for the vice president. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Wu, meanwhile, has helped lay the intellectual and legal groundwork for an antitrust case against Facebook. McNamee has publicly called for the company to be broken up. Other fundraiser hosts include Letitia James, the attorney general of New York who is leading one of the antitrust probes into the social-networking giant. State and federal investigators are expected to bring antitrust charges against Facebook as soon as November, The Post first reported last week. Wu declined to comment, and a spokesman for James did not respond to a request.
McNamee said he and others involved in the fundraiser initially brought the idea to the Biden campaign, which he described as “super interested and really helpful” in organizing the event.
“I don’t think we know, and I’m not sure the vice president knows yet,” said McNamee when asked about how Biden might approach the industry if he takes over the Oval Office. “The goal of this group of people is to make sure” that a potential new Biden administration takes into account “the viewpoints we’re going to express.”