TTP Investigation Reveals Facebook’s Extensive Effort to Influence State Attorneys General
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 27, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a new report detailing Facebook’s years-long campaign to gain influence with state attorneys general, who are currently investigating Facebook for potential antitrust and privacy violations. TTP examined hundreds of emails between Facebook and state officials obtained through public records requests. The emails detail Facebook’s extensive charm offensive, which included inviting AGs to private meetings with company executives, filming public service announcements for them, and providing free advertising credits. Facebook also has contributed a total of nearly $900,000 to individual attorney general campaigns and national AG associations in the past decade.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Facebook has embarked on a years-long campaign to curry favor with attorneys general in order to head off a future antitrust investigation. Now that attorneys general are investigating Facebook for its practices, the company is no doubt hoping to cash in on relationships it has built with state officials. Investigators need to be aware of the game that Facebook is playing.”
Facebook uses a myriad of strategies to gain influence with state officials. Since 2009, Facebook has donated a combined $675,720 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) and Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). The amount was split nearly evenly between the two groups. Facebook also gave roughly $220,000 to individual attorneys general campaigns between 2011 and 2018.
Beyond direct contributions, Facebook also tries to develop relationships with attorneys general through more subtle measures. The emails show how the company views conferences hosted by the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) as prime opportunities to make connections with AGs and do damage control on controversial issues like online sex trafficking and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. During one NAAG conference, Facebook filmed public service announcements for attorneys general in the library of a Ritz-Carlton hotel, providing script support and loading the teleprompter. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg played a key role in the AG outreach, hosting meetings with the officials and even holding one-on-one chats with them.
On a separate occasion, Facebook offered to provide technical advice and a script to help the Office of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden record a public service announcement (PSA) regarding Data Privacy Day and Safer Internet Day. After Facebook reviewed the video, the company awarded Mr. Wasden’s office a $3,000 advertising credit to run the PSA on its platform.
Facebook may now be hoping for a return on investment from this influence operation, as it faces a multi-state antitrust investigation, led by New York, that’s examining the company’s data practices, impact on consumer choice, advertising business, and other issues.
Mr. Stevens continued, “The writing has been on the wall for years. Facebook knew that at some point it would face investigations from state and federal authorities. These emails reveal that Facebook began laying the groundwork to head off these investigations. As they continue to investigate Facebook, attorneys general should be wary of any olive branches extended by anyone representing Facebook.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.