Facebook and Microsoft Help Fund Right-Wing Lobby Effort, Report Finds


Some of America’s largest technology and telecoms companies, including Facebook, Microsoft and AT&T, are backing a network of self-styled “free-market thinktanks” promoting a radical rightwing agenda in states across the nation, according to a new report by a lobbying watchdog.

The Center for Media and Democracy asserts that the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella group of 64 thinktanks based in each of the 50 states, is acting as a largely beneath-the-radar lobbying machine for major corporations and rightwing donors.

Its policies include cutting taxes, opposing climate change regulations, advocating reductions in labour protections and the minimum wage, privatising education, restricting voter rights and lobbying for the tobacco industry.

The network’s $83.2m annual warchest comes from major donors. These include the Koch brothers, the energy tycoons who are a mainstay of Tea Party groups and climate change sceptics; the tobacco company Philip Morris and its parent company Altria Group; the food giant Kraft; and the multinational drugs company GlaxoSmithKline.

More surprisingly, backers also include Facebook and Microsoft, as well as the telecoms giants AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Verizon.

The CMD study uncovered a public document that listed SPN’s funders in 2010. They included: AT&T and Microsoft, which each donated up to $99,000; and Time Warner Cable and Verizon, which each contributed up to $24,000. In addition, Facebook, Microsoft and Time Warner each sponsored SPN’s most recent annual meeting in Oklahoma City in September.

Lisa Graves, the director of the Center for Media and Democracy, said it was “disappointing” that Facebook and the other technology and telecoms companies had “put their hat in the ring, given SPN’s extreme agenda that includes climate change denial, making it harder for Americans to vote, and attacking workers’ rights.” She called on the firms to “reconsider their support, as it is at odds with science and common sense.”

Tracie Sharp, the president of SPN, rebutted the charge that it operates as a rightwing lobbying network. In a statement, she said that the network was dedicated to providing “state-based, free-market thinktanks with the academic and management resources required to run a non-profit institution”. Each of its 64 member thinktanks were “fiercely independent, choosing to manage their staff, pick their own research topics and educate the public on those issues they deem most appropriate for their state.”

But she added that “every thinktank, however, rallies around a common belief: the power of free markets and free people to create a healthy, prosperous society.”

The State Policy Network operates a  tech/telecom policy exchange in which it campaigns against taxes on internet shopping and against the regulatory activities of the Federal Communications Commission. Though much of that thinking could not reasonably be characterised as what the CMD report calls an “extreme rightwing agenda”, the tech and telecoms companies’ inclusion on the list of funders puts them alongside some strange bedfellows.

The Guardian invited the technology and telecoms companies to respond to the allegation that they have sponsored a network devoted to “extreme” rightwing causes, but most either declined to comment or had not responded by the time of publication.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Microsoft said: “As a large company, Microsoft has great interest in the many policy issues discussed across the country. We have a longstanding record of engaging with a broad assortment of groups on a bipartisan basis, both at the national and local level. In regard to State Policy Network, Microsoft has focused our participation on their technology policy work group because it is valuable forum to hear various perspectives about technology challenges and to share potential solutions.”

 Reported: Alternet

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