Thursday, April 18, 2024

Sen. Maria Cantwell Took Thousands from TikTok Lobbyist Days After...

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Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) is the head of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee.

Financial disclosures reveal she received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a TikTok lobbyist just days after the House passed its bipartisan bill targeting the Chinese-owned app. 

What's up with that?

Be informed, not misled.

The Washington Free Beacon explains it this way:

Ben McMakin, the executive vice president at Crossroads Strategies and a lobbyist for TikTok since 2020, contributed a total of $2,000 to Cantwell’s reelection campaign, according to financial disclosures reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. McMakin made two $1,000 donations on March 19 and March 20, approximately one week after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed its bill that would crack down on TikTok and force its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest from it. As chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Cantwell has jurisdiction over the bill, and whether it eventually moves forward to a floor vote in the upper chamber.

Cantwell's former employees are now working at TikTok.

Last month, Cantwell faced scrutiny when the public became aware that she has ties to the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok. Several of her former senior aides are now working for TikTok as it lobbies lawmakers to kill the legislation. 

According to the Free Beacon, "Senators have also expressed concern that her slow approach to this legislation will give TikTok time to rally lawmakers against the bill."

Cantwell did not respond to a request for comment.

Rosemary Gutierrez, once Cantwell's former deputy chief of staff, now serves as a TikTok lobbyist at Mehlman Consulting, having joined the firm roughly one year after leaving Cantwell's office in 2020. The Washington Democrat's former chief of staff, Michael Meehan, left Cantwell's office to launch Squared Communications, a consulting firm that is working for TikTok. Additionally, Kim Lipsky, who previously held the role of staff director for the Commerce Committee under Cantwell, is on TikTok's payroll as a government relations staffer. Notably, Lipsky supported Cantwell’s reelection campaign with a $1,500 contribution last year, while Lisa Hayes, TikTok’s senior director of tech policy and senior counsel, contributed $500.

While McMakin has not been previously employed by Cantwell, he did work for her close Senate colleague, Patty Murray (D., Wash.). He served as her legislative director for nearly a decade. 

As you know, the two senators for the state of Washington, Cantwell and Murray, regularly work together to introduce legislation.

According to Crossroads Strategies’ disclosures—on which McMakin is listed as the top lobbyist—TikTok pays the firm nearly half a million dollars annually to sway lawmakers against bills meant to regulate the app. 

McMakin did not respond to a request for comment.


Last week, Sen. Cantwell told reporters that the bill requiring ByteDance to divest from TikTok or face a ban "could be better." In particular, Cantwell said the House bill might not stand up to legal scrutiny if passed.

A constitutional law firm disagrees with her.

Unlike her colleagues, Cantwell has also stressed patience when it comes to pushing the House bill forward. 

After a group of bipartisan senators attended a classified briefing on TikTok last month, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said the app "is a gun pointed at Americans’ heads," while Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) added that "there was a deep concern about the threat of TikTok from both sides of the aisle," and called on the Senate to "expeditiously" advance the legislation.

The Free Beacon says, "The TikTok lobbyist's support for Cantwell comes amid ongoing concerns about the company's handling of Americans' private data. A former senior employee at TikTok recently said he was ordered to send American user data to Beijing-based parent company ByteDance, contradicting TikTok’s public claims of operating independently from China."

The Beacon continues, "In the past, Cantwell championed and even campaigned on internet privacy. However, during her tenure as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, few such bills introduced to address privacy and content moderation have advanced."

Be Informed. Be Discerning. Be Vigilant. Be Engaged. Be Prayerful.