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Amid antitrust scrutiny, some big-tech lobbying spending hits new highs in H1'20

Lobbying expenditures for some prominent online platforms rose to new highs in the first half of 2020 amid increased antitrust scrutiny across the federal government.

Based on 10 years of data from the Center for Responsive Politics' website analyzed by S&P Global Market Intelligence, Facebook Inc. and Inc. set new records for lobbying expenditures in the first half of 2020, spending $10.1 million and $9.2 million, respectively. Apple Inc. held par with previous years, while Google LLC parent company Alphabet Inc. showed a significant decline in spending.

The data comes as the four companies face pressure in Washington around issues such as competition and content moderation. On July 29, the CEOs of the four companies testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, arguing that their respective markets remain highly competitive and innovative.

Facebook led the four companies in its lobbying expenditures for the first half of the year, with its spending up 34.7% year over year from $7.5 million.

Facebook is currently subject to an antitrust probe from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and a separate investigation from a group of state attorneys general. Avery Gardiner — general counsel and senior fellow for competition, data, and power at the Center for Democracy & Technology — recently told S&P Global Market Intelligence that she would not be surprised if the federal government filed a lawsuit against Facebook before the upcoming 2020 election.

Amazon also saw a significant uptick in its first-half spending, jumping 13.6% from $8.1 million in the first six months of 2019. And the last several years have seen a continuous increase in lobbying spending, reaching a $16.8 million total for 2019.

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All told, since 2010, Amazon has spent $89.3 million on lobbying and has hired a total of 665 lobbyists. Analysts in July 2019 told S&P Global Market Intelligence that the digital commerce giant will continue an upward trend of robust lobbying in Washington as it bolsters its presence in the D.C. area with plans for its $2.5 billion headquarters in Arlington, Va.

For Apple, the company's lobbying numbers for the first half of the year have remained relatively constant since 2017, averaging around $3.7 million.

At Alphabet, by contrast, expenditures declined sharply from 2018 to 2019, dropping to $6.8 million in the first half of 2019, down from $11.2 million a year earlier. That decline has continued in the first half of 2020, with the company spending $4.1 million.

Still, of the four companies, Alphabet spent the most on lobbying from 2010 through the first half of 2020, spending $154.9 million.

In addition to the House antitrust probe, the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing to file an antitrust lawsuit against Google as early as this summer, with state attorneys general likely to file a similar case in the fall, The Wall Street Journal reported in May.

Additionally, without naming specific companies, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an investigation in July 2019 into "whether and how market-leading online platforms have achieved market power and are engaging in practices that have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers."