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July 26, 2019, 9:27 a.m. EDT

Facebook tops Amazon and Google in second-quarter lobbying spending

Partisan split means ‘we see little room for any legislation to actually materialize in the near term,’ analysts say

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By Victor Reklaitis, MarketWatch


MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto
Tech giants are spending millions to influence lawmakers and regulators as they face increasing scrutiny.

Facebook Inc. shelled out $4.1 million on lobbying Washington in the second quarter, topping the outlays by other so-called FAANG companies and keeping the tech giant on pace for another record year of spending to influence lawmakers and regulators.

Amazon.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.70%  wasn’t far behind with $4 million in lobbying spending in the same period, as it also stayed on a record pace, according to disclosures filed Monday.

Alphabet Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +1.98%   /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL +2.02%  Google business spent $2.9 million from April through June, Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +1.11%  laid out $1.8 million, and Netflix Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +0.31% spent a relatively modest $200,000.

The lobbying comes as Big Tech deals with antitrust probes, with the Justice Department openly announcing a review Tuesday — and as some politicians say the Silicon Valley titans should get broken up. In the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal and other foul-ups, the companies are also facing greater scrutiny over how they handle their users’ data as well as how they manage misinformation and political bias. Lawmakers have talked up the potential for a bipartisan law that would lead to better safeguards for personal data, though analysts say it’s unlikely because of a partisan split over the potential for federal preemption of states’ laws.

Read more: Tech’s day of reckoning on Capitol Hill was long and harsh

Also see: House Judiciary Committee presses Big Tech on anti-competitive behavior

Facebook’s /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +0.17%   disclosure for 2019’s second quarter showed it lobbied on issues such as data security, privacy legislation, visas for high-tech workers, artificial intelligence, tax policy and the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement . The social-media company also has started to use outside lobbyists to pitch its Libra cryptocurrency to policymakers, said a Politico report on Tuesday.

Related: Facebook’s Libra could be more dangerous than 9/11, congressman says

Amazon’s latest disclosure again underscored its vast reach, showing it lobbied on U.S. Postal Service reform, American tariffs, facial-recognition technology, cloud computing, music licensing, legislation affecting drones and many other matters. The e-commerce giant’s lobbying efforts have been increasing as it enlarges its footprint in the Washington, D.C., area by putting a second headquarters in Northern Virginia.

Check out: Don’t delay JEDI cloud deal, Republican lawmakers tell Trump

And read: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos ranks No. 1 among S&P 500 CEOs in political spending

Google’s filing showed it lobbied on matters such as competition in online advertising, intellectual-property enforcement, online-content moderation, high-skilled immigration, antitrust law and net neutrality, while Apple’s many issues included tax reform, government requests for data, mobile payments and the development of autonomous vehicles. Netflix focused on matters such as broadband caps, privacy and internet competition.

Height Capital Markets analysts said in a recent note that the companies might avoid legislation that targets them in the near term thanks to Democrats and Republicans having different priorities.

“While both sides have started to focus on issues with Big Tech recently, the Republicans are more focused on bias against conservatives whereas Democrats are more focused on antitrust,” the analysts wrote. “Given this, we see little room for any legislation to actually materialize in the near term.”

Related: Facebook earnings seem immune to the Big Tech backlash — for now

And see: Facebook to pay $5 billion in settlement with FTC

In this year’s first quarter, Amazon spent $3.9 million on lobbying, while Facebook and Google each paid out $3.4 million, Apple shelled out $1.9 million, and Netflix spent $200,000.

The tech titans’ significant spending to influence Washington in 2019’s first half follows sizeable outlays last year. Google laid out $22 million , Amazon spent $14 million and Facebook put up $13 million in 2018 , representing a record level of annual spending for each company. That’s according to data from OpenSecrets.org, a website tracking money in politics that’s run by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

“Amazon provides a wide range of products and services for our customers, and we’re always looking for ways to innovate on their behalf. Our Washington, D.C., team is focused on ensuring we are advocating on issues that are important to our customers, our employees and policymakers,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.

Facebook, Google and Netflix declined to comment on their latest disclosures, while Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Apple spent $6.7 million on lobbying in 2018, down from $7.2 million in 2017, while Netflix shelled out $800,000 , down from a peak of $1.3 million in 2015.

Facebook’s stock has gained 53% this year, Amazon has advanced 31%, and Apple is also up 31%. Netflix has tacked on 22%, while Google is higher by 9%. The S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.39%  has added 20%.

This report was first published on July 23, 2019.

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Victor Reklaitis is MarketWatch's Money & Politics reporter and is based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @VicRek.

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