What Big Tech’s “Chamber of Progress” Is Really All About
A vaguely-named influence shop does Big Tech’s heavy lifting
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What Big Tech’s “Chamber of Progress” Is Really All About
As the Big Tech antitrust debate unfolds in public, there’s a name that seems to keep popping up: the Chamber of Progress.
There it was earlier this week, leading a group of 13 organizations — almost all funded by Big Tech — in opposition to the antitrust bills circulating through Congress. A few days later, it released a sponsored poll revealing voter skepticism around the bills. The Chamber’s founder and CEO, Adam Kovacevich, has become a dial-a-quote for reporters, always happy to make Big Tech’s case as the companies stay above the fray. He just mass emailed another quote as I wrote this paragraph.
The Chamber — and organizations like it — are crucial to Big Tech’s plan to thwart the bills targeting their anticompetitive behavior. Vaguely-named and paid for by Amazon, Facebook, Google, Uber, and others, the Chamber’s activities create an illusion of broad support for the tech giants that doesn’t always match reality. And its progressive stances, announced as it debuted in March 2021 — right after the Democrats won the House, Senate, and White House — position it to influence those cracking down on its benefactors.
“It's meeting the moment,” Kovacevich told me in a conversation on the Big Technology Podcast this week. “There were already a number of groups on the right, on the free-market side, representing the tech industry. And there wasn't as much of that on the left and center-left.”
Kovacevich told me he’s a registered Democrat, but there’s some clear opportunism in the Chamber’s positioning. His organization’s partners include Uber, Lyft, and Doordash, companies that helped pass a California ballot initiative opposed by the left — Prop 22 — that blocked drivers from obtaining employee rights. Amazon, another Chamber partner, fired employees who spoke up on behalf of its fulfillment center workers as Coronavirus raged last year.
Kovacevich himself campaigned for now-Senator Tom Cotton in Arkansas as the Republican ran for a House seat in 2014. “Tom is one of my good friends from college,” Kovacevich said. “He knows full well that I disagree with him on 95% of his political positions, but he's a friend.” That would make Kovacevich one of the few progressive leaders who have helped put their political opponents in office.
For their money, the Big Tech companies get an organization willing to push their viewpoints in the press, sometimes with spotty disclosure. A Kovacevich op-ed published this week in Pleasanton Weekly, a local paper in Rep. Eric Swalwell’s district, pushed the Congressman to oppose two of the Big Tech bills. The disclosure underneath the story said that Kovacevich runs “a center-left tech industry policy coalition” without specifying that three companies in his lede — Amazon, Facebook, and Google — all fund the effort. Swalwell, a Democract, voted against letting one of the bills out of committee.
“We try to be clear about who our supporting companies are,” Kovacevich told me. “We’re going to be more transparent than most groups on listing partners.’
Big Tech can — and should — mount its own defense. One-sided thinking inevitably leads to worse outcomes. But it seems that these influence operations are starting to catch the eyes of the elected representatives they’re supposed to influence. And perhaps that will lead Big Tech companies to speak up more often on their own behalf.
“The only people who still argue that there’s no reason to be concerned about competition in Big Tech are the ones paid by Big Tech,” Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, said this week. “When well-compensated lobbyists and their non-profit proxies attempt to pervert conservative economic and legal philosophy into a defense of big tech monopolies, antitrust policy and consumers suffer.”
Sen. Lee was speaking at an event hosted by Netchoice, another industry group that takes money from Amazon, Facebook, and Google.
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The Big Tech antitrust conversation in Washington is starting to get interesting. All six of the bills targeting the tech giants made it out of the House Judiciary Committee, doing so quickly despite strong opposition from the companies and their proxies. Now, the bills make their way to the broader House, with more debate and lobbying to come. The quick, bipartisan process is starting to make making the big technology companies sweat.
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This week on Big Technology Podcast: Two Shows!
This week, we have two (!) episodes:
Crossover With The Realignment: Can Tech Survive Washington’s Onslaught?
The first episode this week is an experiment! I stopped by a favorite podcast, The Realignment, and recorded an episode with hosts Marshall Kosloff and Saagar Enjeti. We spoke about the Big Tech bills making their way through Congress and dug into conservative claims that tech giants censor them. Typically I'm not too fond of the latter discussion because it often is filled with bad-faith arguments. But this conversation was different. We’re cross-posting the episode on the Big Technology Podcast feed.
How Big Tech Influence Shops Shape The Antitrust Conversation In Washington — with Adam Kovacevich
The second episode this week is a conversation with Adam Kovacevich. I give Adam credit for coming on the show and speaking about the way his organization is working to influence the conversation in Washington. This is a behind-the-scenes look at the group’s philosophy and approach.
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