TikTok might be hit with a ban in the United States, but the embattled app isn’t going down without a fight. The organization OpenSecrets, which is committed to “following the money in politics,” has revealed that TikTok and parent company ByteDance have spent $13.4 million on U.S. government lobbying since 2019.
OpenSecrets shared a chart that divulges ByteDance’s year-over-year lobbying expenses. In 2019, the Chinese corporation spent less on lobbying than comparable tech companies. But as U.S. politicians have threatened to ban TikTok, the app has ramped up its influence campaign. In 2022 alone, TikTok and ByteDance spent $5.4 billion on their attempts to lobby D.C. power players.
ByteDance may not have spent much on its U.S.-based lobbying efforts in 2019, but even at that time, the corporation was still thinking about its reputation. Politico — which claims ByteDance has spent $16 million on federal lobbying since 2019 — used a recent report to illustrate the slow, steady growth of TikTok’s influence operation. As far back as 2019, the app was looking to assemble a “Team of Avengers” that could solidify its status in the U.S.
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The current members of that squad are a bipartisan group with deep connections in the nation’s capital. Politico identified former Senate majority leader Trent Lott and long-time Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley as two of the individuals who have lobbied on TikTok’s behalf.
Some of TikTok’s Avengers assembled on Capitol Hill to prepare TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew for his appearance before a Senate committee. The Wall Street Journal named a pair of ex-Obama operatives, as well as former Disney communications chief Zenia Mucha, among the list of TikTok allies who advised Chew ahead of his Congressional hearing.
TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter has pointed out that her company’s lobbying spend is in line with other tech giants. “We plan to continue briefing members of Congress about our company and about the details of our robust and comprehensive plans to address national security concerns,” Oberwetter told Politico. “We work to engage policymakers and stakeholders across the political spectrum on issues that are important to our business and to the diverse and vibrant community on our platform.”
According to one narrative, TikTok’s lobbying campaign has been a dud, since the app might still receive a U.S. ban in spite of its $13.4 million effort. But it’s clear that there are plenty of people in Washington who are willing to fight for TikTok. As the Senate debates whether it wants to follow through with its proposed ban, Gen Z creators have spoken up in support of the video platform they love.
One thing’s for sure: Lobbying won’t be ByteDance’s biggest expense as it looks to sustain its American operations. The effort to store U.S. TikTok user data on domestic servers (a.k.a. Project Texas) has reportedly cost $1.5 billion to set up.