Dozens of Facebook lobbyists tied to members of Congress, investigation shows

<span>Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

As tech giant Facebook grapples with congressional hearings over its policy allowing politicians to sponsor untruthful ads and its role in proliferating hate speech, dozens of its lobbyists have connections to members of Congress, likely giving them special access that helps them promote the company’s interests.

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So far this year, Facebook has employed 68 federal lobbyists, 12 in-house employees and 56 from K Street firms – spending nearly $12.3m on federal lobbying through 30 September. Sludge dug through Center for Responsive Politics and Legistorm databases and found that out of these lobbyists only three have never held jobs in the federal government.

The Facebook lobbyists have worked for 29 current members of Congress – 18 representatives and 11 senators – including key Democratic party leaders.

Four of the lobbyists have worked in the office of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Two have worked in the office of Hakeem Jeffries, chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Other Facebook lobbyists have worked for the majority leader Steny Hoyer , Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer , Senator Mark Warner, who is vice chair of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, chair of Senate Democrats’ steering committee and a 2020 presidential candidate.

Some of these lobbyists have recently donated to their former bosses:

  • Shanti Stanton, who was once a special assistant to Pelosi, gave her campaign $2,000 on 5 August.

  • Sudafi Henry, who was Hoyer’s deputy outreach director from 2005-07, gave Hoyer’s campaigns $1,500 in 2018 and $500 in 2016.

  • Cedric Grant, who was Jeffries’ chief of staff from 2013-17, gave Jeffries $500 in 2018.

  • Luke Albee, who was Warner’s chief of staff from 2009-15, gave Warner’s campaign $1,000 in April 2019.

  • Timothy Molino, counsel to Klobuchar from 2010-11, gave Klobuchar’s campaign $3,300 during the 2017-18 election cycle.

Thirty-two Facebook lobbyists worked for Democratic members of Congress, Democratic White Houses, or were hired by Democrats to serve as committee staffers, and 30 more worked for Republicans.

In contrast to the Democratic connections, no 2019 Facebook lobbyist has worked for current members of the Republican House and Senate leadership. However, several have worked for powerful GOP Senate committee chairmen.

Mason Street Consulting’s Susan Stoner Zook and Hollier and Associates’ William Hollier previously worked for Senate Banking Committee chair Mike Crapo (. Hollier was Crapo’s chief of staff for a decade, from 1993 to 2003, and Zook was the senator’s legislative assistant from 2011-13.

Lobbyist Jen Olson, who is employed by Peck Madigan Jones, was legislative director for Senator Lindsey Graham), chair of the Senate judiciary committee. Facebook policy manager Myriah Jordan used to be Select Committee on Intelligence chair Senator Richar Burr’s general counsel. Jonathan Slemrod of Harbinger Strategies was legislative assistant and then campaign policy director for senator Marco Rubio , chair of the Small Business Committee.

These “revolving door” connections likely give the lobbyists better access to their former bosses, experts say. Such connections have been shown to be effective in influencing how members of Congress vote. A 2011 study on financial industry lobbying from two International Monetary Fund economists found that “if a lobbyist had worked for a legislator in the past, the legislator was very likely to vote in favor of lax regulation”.

Zook gave her old boss Crapo’s campaign $1,500 in June. Hollier gave Crapo $2,000 in 2017 and $4,000 in 2016. Olson gave Graham’s campaign the maximum per-election contribution of $2,700 in 2017. Slemrod gave Rubio’s campaign $1,000 in 2015 and donated $1,000 to another former boss, Senator John Cornyn , earlier this year.

Four Facebook lobbyists have worked for White House administrations. Henry of the GROUP DC was Joe Biden’s assistant for legislative affairs from 2009-11, while Biden was vice-president. Subject Matter’s Grant and in-house Facebook lobbyist Nkechi Iheme worked under Obama. Michael W Williams of the Williams Group was staff director and special legislative assistant to Bill Clinton from 1996-2000.

Facebook is set to break its annual lobbying spending record this year, having spent nearly $5m on federal lobbying in the third quarter alone.

While these connections likely give lobbyists better access to their former bosses, they don’t necessarily mean that the members of Congress act more favorably towards their lobbying clients.

Warner, for example, has been a frequent critic of Facebook, having written a document with 20 suggestions for how to increase regulation of the company and pressing it to reverse its position on false political ads.

Meanwhile, Pelosi has an additional connection to Facebook. Her husband, financial executive Paul Pelosi, owns between $550,000 and $1.1m worth of stock in Facebook, according to financial disclosures.

  • This article was produced in partnership with Sludge, an investigative news website focused on money in politics. Sludge is funded by donations from its readers and supporters.