TikTok hires Biden-connected firm as it finds itself under D.C.’s microscope

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TikTok, the wildly popular Chinese-owned social media app, has hired top Biden-connected consulting firm SKDK as it faces increasing scrutiny in Washington, according to two people, including one with direct knowledge of the hire.

The public affairs and political consulting firm is providing communications support to the company, which has come under government scrutiny, with senators recently introducing a bipartisan bill empowering Biden to restrict or potentially ban the service.

The hiring came in the last few months, according to the person with direct knowledge of the hire. A spokesperson for SKDK declined to comment while a spokesperson for TikTok who also declined to comment.

The fire TikTok has faced in D.C. has been building for a number of years after the Trump administration tried to ban the app. It has continued with the Biden administration’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. conducting a national security review of TikTok.

SKDK is seen as the most well-connected Democratic firm in Washington with former top employees in senior and mid-level roles in the Biden administration. Anita Dunn, a founding partner, returned to the White House last May where she is senior adviser after a stint in the early part of the Biden administration and work on the 2020 campaign. Other former SKDK employees in the Biden administration include deputy White House communications directors Kate Berner and Herbie Ziskend, deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh and Interior Department press secretary Tyler Cherry.

While it has thrived in the Biden era, SKDK has also faced additional scrutiny for its clients. It parted ways with Starbucks last year as the coffee company tried to fend off a union organizing effort. As of 2021, the firm worked for Amazon as well but it’s unclear whether the two companies still have a relationship.

Last year, Dunn said in financial disclosure documents that she had advised a number of blue-chip American companies in the previous two years who have business before the government, including AT&T, Lyft, Pfizer and Salesforce. The firm, which is owned by the Stagwell Group, has long emphasized that it doesn’t lobby the federal government or represent companies on issues before the government.

The bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators that could affect TikTok is supported by the White House. It would give the federal government new powers to restrict, and potentially ban, technologies from China and other nations designated as U.S. adversaries, although such an action would face howls from advocates of free speech. TikTok is seen as one of the technologies that is helping prompt that action from Congress given the worries that the Chinese government could one day use data from its millions of American users.

To try to mitigate federal government action against TikTok, the app’s Chinese owner ByteDance has spent more than $13 million on lobbying since 2019 and has hired several dozen lobbyists, including former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux Sr. (R-La.), who work for Crossroads Strategies, as well as former Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), who currently work for K&L Gates.