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Republicans trash Chamber of Commerce over Big Tech lobbying

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The US Chamber of Commerce has jumped into the political fight over Big Tech — and the group’s staunch opposition to antitrust reform is alienating many Republicans in Congress, The Post has learned.

While America’s biggest and best-funded business lobby once enlisted Republicans to defend oil and tobacco firms against their Democratic foes, critics now say Big Tech funders including Meta, Google and Amazon are increasingly setting the group’s agenda.

Despite the 110 year-old Chamber’s considerable funding — including a $65 million lobbying budget in 2021 — greater than a half dozen current and former Congressional Republican sources told The Post that the group’s influence has nosedived because the group has largely been frozen out of policy discussions since Donald Trump left office.

“I don’t think the Chamber has much, if any, juice with Republicans now in any respect,” one House GOP aide told The Post.

“The Chamber of Commerce takes a variety of money from Big Tech and so that they diligently do their bidding,” said Mike Davis, a former top aide for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). “Today’s conservatives understand that corporate power is oftentimes much more oppressive than government power.” 

The Chamber also angered the GOP by endorsing a slate of moderate Democrats in 2020 and was banned from House Republican strategy calls last yr in a spat over infrastructure.

Or as one Republican lobbyist put it: “The Chamber is within the wilderness.”

Suzanne P. Clark is the CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, which is funded partially by Google, Amazon and Meta. US Chamber of Commerce

“Vetted by Google, Facebook and Amazon

In previous a long time, many Republican staffers on Capitol Hill worked closely with the Chamber, which was often staffed by their very own former colleagues.

“The Chamber — it’s a bunch of Republicans who work there — would call up Republican offices and say, ‘Hey, you’re considered one of us and here’s what the business community thinks should occur,’ ” one senior Senate staffer said, adding that Republicans often took “marching orders” from the group. 

That buddy-buddy relationship has frayed as Republicans have soured on Big Tech firms, which many accuse of censoring conservatives and unfairly squashing competition.

Google“You recognize that whatever they’re telling you has been vetted by Google and Facebook and Amazon,” a senior GOP Senate staffer said. Getty Images

The Chamber says it represents lots of of hundreds of American businesses, however the group doesn’t disclose how much funding it receives from each member. There’s a perception amongst Republicans that Big Tech firms effectively control the group, backed up by the proven fact that executives from Meta and Microsoft sit on the Chamber’s board. In March, the Chamber’s government affairs team moved to a Capitol Hill office constructing also occupied by Google, as first reported by Protocol.

“You recognize that whatever they’re telling you has been vetted by Google and Facebook and Amazon,” the senior GOP Senate staffer said. 

(The Chamber doesn’t take funding from Apple, which left the group in 2009 over its opposition to laws that will regulate greenhouse gas emissions.) 

Chamber of CommerceRepublican lawmakers used to take “marching orders” from the Chamber of Commerce — but not, in line with one senior GOP senate staffer.CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“Refusing to compromise

As rage against Big Tech brews amongst each Republicans and Democrats, bipartisan support has grown for a spread of antitrust bills that supporters say would rein in the most important tech firms, including some proposals that will go so far as breaking up Big Tech firms.

However the Chamber has lobbied strongly against virtually all the bills, including what’s widely perceived because the most moderate proposal: Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2021, which might tweak federal court rules.

Under current law, antitrust lawsuits brought by states’ attorneys general in federal courts across the country could be combined with similar suits and consolidated right into a single court — sometimes with a judge who could also be more sympathetic to tech firms — against the needs of the attorneys general. Lee’s bill would give attorneys general more power to maintain their suits of their preferred courts.

Ted CruzSen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is considered one of the numerous Republican supporters of the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2021. AP

The venue bill has garnered support from everyone from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX.) and the House Freedom Caucus, which incorporates GOP firebrands like Reps. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). 

Nonetheless, a Chamber spokesman told The Post the group stays against the venue bill, warning that it “is not going to protect consumers but create a latest, burdensome multi-state litigation process that may increase costs.”

“The Chamber’s advocacy against sweeping rewrites of antitrust bills on the federal and state levels reflects the deep concerns of our members from every sector of the economy,” the spokesman said, adding that the bills would impact every business sector — not only tech firms.

MetaExecutives from Meta and Microsoft sit on the Chamber of Commerce’s board. REUTERS

Yet some Republicans think the Chamber’s attacks on even essentially the most moderate laws will backfire by leading legislators to embrace more radical alternatives.

“Big Tech and the Chamber are refusing to compromise, pushing people to be more extreme,” the senior GOP Senate staffer said. “There’s a lot political energy focused against Big Tech that if it doesn’t get an outlet through something small, then individuals are going to go for far more drastic things.”

The House Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), supports the venue bill. Getty Images

“Nobody takes them seriously

While battles over Big Tech have widened the gap between the GOP and the Chamber, the bad blood began when the Chamber endorsed 23 House Democrats within the 2020 election, along with 29 Republicans. On the time, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) claimed the group had “sold out.” 

Garret Ventry, a former chief of staff for antitrust backer and Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), told The Post that the Democratic endorsements left the group with “zero influence.” 

“Nobody takes them seriously — full stop,” Ventry said. “It’s not that they lost a few of their credibility. They lost all of it.”

Conflict between the GOP and the Chamber intensified in 2021 when the Chamber lobbied heavily for President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was opposed by former President Donald Trump and other top Republicans. After the Chamber criticized the party’s top brass for whipping votes against the bill, House Republican leadership banned the group from strategy calls.

Hours after news of the Chamber’s ban broke, Axios reported that the Chamber had flip-flopped and pulled its support for the infrastructure bill — however the ban from GOP calls appears to still stand greater than six months later.

Steve ScaliseA spokesperson for Rep. Steve Scalise told The Post the Chamber doesn’t “have any business being on Republican strategy calls.” AP

Reached for comment for this story, a spokesperson for House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) told The Post, “We don’t think organizations who endorsed Democrats and are pushing key parts of Biden’s radical, inflation-fueling agenda have any business being on Republican strategy calls.” 

Asked about last yr’s battles with the GOP, the chamber spokesman said, “The U.S. Chamber’s legislative strategy the past few years has yielded significant results, most notably the bipartisan infrastructure package is law and the tax-and-spend reconciliation bill is just not.”

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