New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan’s effort to dodge a difficult vote against Big Tech has turned into its own political liability.
The bipartisan American Innovation and Choice Online Act would bar major tech companies from favoring their own products on their platforms above competitors. Last week, according to a report in Politico, Hassan’s chief of staff Marc Goldberg joined the Senate’s weekly chief’s call and urged his colleagues not to push the bill forward to a vote, characterizing the move as risky in the face of upcoming midterm elections.
Goldberg’s remark, which was sourced to five people familiar with it, led to a tense exchange with the chief of staff for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the lead sponsor of the contested legislation.
On Tuesday, one of Hassan’s Republican opponents, Don Bolduc, used the incident to come after Hassan, undermining her claim that the vote was a political liability. “Pushing back against Big Tech is necessary to build American Strength back. @SenatorHassan continues to sell out to these companies by cowardly opposing bipartisan legislation that would hold sites like Google and Facebook accountable,” Bolduc tweeted.
The way that Washington works, it’s also impossible to know from what perspective Hassan’s aide was speaking. Goldberg also works on Hassan’s reelection campaign, specifically providing “campaign strategy services” to her fundraising committee, as well as “strategic and fundraising consulting services” to the Hassan-linked Granite Values PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records.
And Hassan’s campaign has been on the receiving end of contributions from numerous employees of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, including the maximum $5,800 from Amazon’s general counsel, David Zapolsky. On Wednesday, Zapolsky tweeted out a link to a new post on Amazon’s website decrying Klobuchar’s antitrust legislation.
Amazon’s blog pushes the recurring complaint that the reform unfairly targets just a handful of Big Tech companies and will threaten Amazon’s low prices and its popular fast delivery service, Amazon Prime. The warning touches on a sensitive issue for Democrats, especially those like Hassan who are up for reelection in swing states. Inflation is one of the biggest struggles voters are dealing with today, and it’s likely to influence their decisions come November.
Hassan won’t have to worry about provoking Amazon if the bill stays away from the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he plans to bring it for a floor vote in early summer, Axios reported, though Hassan and others looking to avoid the vote are hoping he’ll back off.
Neither Goldberg nor a spokesperson for Hassan responded to a request for comment.
The legislation faces fierce opposition behind the scenes, but when pressed to take a position in the daylight, most senators don’t want to be seen publicly siding with Big Tech.
Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted that the bill’s 16-6 bipartisan vote came after senators were forced to go on record. “Sen. Klobuchar worked overtime on this bipartisan bill, and a lot of the opposition to it melted, melted away,” he told The Intercept in April.
On Thursday, a coalition of 24 organizations — including Public Citizen, Our Revolution, and Greenpeace — urged Schumer to press ahead with the vote.