Koch vs Mercer Families Split on Whether to Reign in Tech Giants

Federal tax forms filed by the Charles Koch Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute show that they gave more than $500,000 to Szóka’s TechFreedom from 2014 to 2018, as reported by Bloomberg. Photo Credit: Charles Koch Foundation

By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh

Lawmakers and their influencers have split and are now engulfed in a two sided battle over whether and how to regulate Silicon Valley’s top companies. Previously, conservative lawmakers and trade groups agreed to take a light regulatory approach to business. Now, the right wing is divided between the anti-Big Tech camp, and more traditional pro-business groups that support the internet giants. As per Bloomberg Business News, the fighting has led some to believe that the powerful internet companies are silencing the right-wing voices. Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have even based their campaign ads on the theory. By now, there is a large backing to the idea that Google, Twitter, and Facebook are censoring conservative ideas.

Tucker Carlson, the Fox News commentator, did a shocking segment in January, in which he vilified right-wing nonprofits for “colluded with Big Tech to shield left-wing monopolies” from oversight. President Trump, and his former chief strategist Steve Bannon are among those who side against the internet companies. “Big Tech should be reined in and reined in fast,” says Bannon. Another ring leader is Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who investigated Google for antitrust and privacy violations when he was a state attorney general. The family foundation of Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire who backed Mr. Trump’s candidacy, is also on their side, claiming that tech companies have a left-wing agenda.

If the argument gets too loud, the internet giants stand to lose their prized legal immunity, called Section 230, which protects them from many lawsuits. They may even be split up by federal and state antitrust investigations. Lucky for them, the internet groups too, have a network of groups supporting them. This group is led by none other than libertarian billionaire Charles Koch, who has broken with Trump and has increasingly turned his attention to defending Silicon Valley. This Koch network, which holds that regulators should keep their distance, also includes the pro-free-market Mercatus Center at George Mason University, as well as mainstream conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In fact, Robert Bluey, Vice President of Communications at Heritage, called on Carlson for the Fox segment, calling it misleading. “It should come as no surprise that Heritage supports empowering consumers rather than government to influence the private sector,” Bluey wrote in the Daily Caller, a conservative publication that Carlson co-founded. “We are, and have always been, champions of free enterprise and critics of government intervention.”

At this time, there is not a lot of evidence that Facebook, Twitter, Google and its YouTube unit methodically or intentionally discriminate against ideological viewpoints. The Tech giants hold that they can remove content that violates their rules, and it is not part of a political agenda but rather an effort to remove spam as well as fake or abusive comments. Still some in the right-leaning groups argue that the platforms are biased. They say their posts are more likely to be flagged for violating social media sites’ standards for hate speech when they bring up hot-button topics such as immigration, religion, or sexual orientation, says Klon Kitchen, a Heritage technology research fellow.

The Koch family, which owns the conglomerate Koch Industries Inc., has supported numerous libertarian organizations over the last decade to empower a hands-off approach to regulation. Federal tax forms filed by the Charles Koch Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute show that they gave more than $500,000 to Szóka’s TechFreedom from 2014 to 2018, as reported by Bloomberg. The Heritage Foundation has similarly been backed by the Kochs. On the opposing side, between 2013 and 2018, the Mercer Family Foundation donated close to $8 million to the Government Accountability Institute, which strives to uncover government corruption.

The debate was on full steam in San Francisco days before Carlson’s expose segment. The Lincoln Network, a right-leaning nonprofit which aims to bridge the gap between Washington and Silicon Valley, hosted a debate on whether or not the U.S. should increase regulation over social media companies for alleged bias.