Amid mounting scrutiny over Russian-funded web advertising during the 2016 presidential election, Facebook Inc.’s internal government affairs team in Washington and the company’s network of outside advocates will be tested like no time before.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he expects Facebook officials to testify this fall about the role the company played as a conduit in the Russian government’s effort to influence the 2016 election. Facebook confirmed earlier this month that it received $100,000 in political ad spending from “inauthentic accounts” operated out of Russia.
"I can only go by what I’ve heard them say publicly, and they’ve expressed they don’t have anything to hide, so a public hearing would be very appropriate," the committee’s chairman, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, told reporters. One of Facebook’s public policy specialists in Washington is a former general counsel to the Republican senator.
Facebook’s Washington entanglement extends beyond the halls of Congress. Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic member of the Federal Elections Commission, in May urged the agency to dig into any Russian attempt to use Facebook to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Facebook reportedly turned over information to Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, the Washington lawyer leading the investigation of Russia’s interference in the presidential race.
Facebook representatives and several top in-house and outside lobbyists from the company did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
“We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform. We believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws,” Alex Stamos, chief security officer at Facebook, said in a statement on Sept. 6. “We also care deeply about the authenticity of the connections people make on our platform.”
In the months after the election of President Donald Trump, Facebook beefed up its lobbying team in Washington, enlisting two more outside advisor teams to advocate for the tech company on a range of issues including tax policy, cybersecurity and immigration reform. In the first three months of 2017, Facebook shelled out $3.2 million on lobbying—the most it has ever spent in a quarter, according to a review of federal disclosure forms.
For advertising issues, Facebook has traditionally leaned on its in-house stable of lobbyists, including Joel Kaplan, the company’s vice president for U.S. public policy, who served as former President George W. Bush’s deputy chief of staff from April 2006 to the end of his administration.
Kaplan, a Harvard Law School graduate, was a clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia and earlier to J. Michael Luttig, the forner federal appeals judge who is now general counsel to Boeing Co. Kaplan joined Facebook in 2011 as the company built a team of Washington veterans.
“It’s imperative that we scale our policy team so that we have the resources in place to demonstrate to policy makers that we are industry leaders in privacy, data security and safety,” Facebook told The New York Times in a report about the company’s hiring of Kaplan.
Facebook’s director of public policy, Brian Rice, a onetime aide to former Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, has also lobbied on advertising issues for the company, according to lobbying disclosures.
Other members of Facebook’s policy team in Washington include Erin Egan, Chris Herndon and Myriah Jordan.
Egan, a privacy specialist, joined the company in 2011 from Covington & Burling, where she was co-chair of the firm’s global privacy and data security practice. Egan, the chief privacy officer, had been at Covington for 15 years. Herndon also joined Facebook in 2011, leaping from the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, where he was counsel.
Jordan was a special assistant for policy in the George W. Bush White House and, later, general counsel to Burr from 2009 to 2011. She was immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
Outside lobbying spend
Facebook this year hired lobbyists at Baker & Hostetler for “general representation, including corporate tax policy, cybersecurity, data security and online privacy,” according to a February registration form.
The tech giant’s team at Baker & Hostetler—which registered to lobby for Facebook in January—includes senior advisors Chris Jones and Greg Orlando, who both worked for former U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson, a New Jersey Republican. Orlando’s career on Capitol Hill also included a stint as counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee and its chairman, U.S. Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican.
Jones and Orlando did not return messages seeking comment about their work for Facebook.
Facebook this year also hired a team from Ogilvy Government Relations—including senior vice president Dean Aguillen, a former adviser of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—for lobbying work around immigration reform.
Trump’s win forced tech companies to boost their ability to engage with a Republican administration, The New York Times reported in January. Google resisted the idea the company had changed its strategy, telling the Times: “We’ve worked with both Republicans and Democrats for over a decade, advocating policies to encourage economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurialism. We’ll continue to do exactly that.”
Facebook over the years in Washington has built up a team of outside lobbyists who have experience working with Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Since 2012, Facebook has paid Steptoe & Johnson LLP about $1.1 million for lobbying on “issues relating to social networking.” Facebook’s Steptoe team includes Jim Barnette, a partner at the firm who served as general counsel to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce under four different Republican chairmen. At Steptoe, Barnette specializes in congressional oversight and investigations, according to his biography on the firm website.
Facebook is also represented by Elizabeth Hurley Burks, managing director of Steptoe’s government affairs and public policy group, who previously served as chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat.
The government relations firm Peck Madigan Jones has also received quarterly payments of $50,000 from Facebook for lobbying on a swath of issues “relevant to technology and internet policy, including privacy/security,” according to a recent lobbying disclosure form.
Facebook has been represented by Peter Madigan, a partner at the firm, who served in the State Department under George H.W. Bush’s administration and worked on President George W. Bush’s transition team as the chief of staff to former U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Zoellick.