Inside TikTok’s secret lobbying effort to kill a permanent ban

What’s happening: TikTok has hired Biden-connected firms and former officials to avoid U.S. regulation. Washington knows the app is a problem — and so do over two-thirds of the American people, according to a new poll. While Congress has seemed increasingly unified against the app, two opposing bills and a swarm of lobbyists have disrupted legislative efforts.

New opposition: Now, lobbyists and big money interests have descended upon Washington to fight against these efforts. The more libertarian-minded Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has come out in opposition to any ban of TikTok whatsoever, saying a ban would hurt Republicans’ chances with younger voters and that shutting down the app would be contrary to free speech. As he writes in the Louisville Courier-Journal,

“So, on the one hand, Republicans complain about censorship, while with the other hand, these same Republicans advocate to censor social media apps that they worry are influenced by the Chinese. Before banning TikTok, these censors might want to discover that China’s government already bans TikTok. Hmmm . . . do we really want to emulate China’s speech bans?”

Big money influence: However, since Paul’s publicly-stated opposition, it has been revealed that the Kentucky Senator is on the payroll of a major TikTok investor, billionaire Jeff Yass, to the tune of 23 million dollars in support since 2015. Paul has since denied that millions in campaign contributions have swayed his thinking on the ban, saying that his “decisions are not based on any kind of donations. My decisions are based on the Constitution and First Amendment.”

It’s not just Rand Paul — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has also come to TikTok’s defense while tied to donations from TikTok’s parent company, which has spent more than $13 million in lobbying efforts since 2019.

The lobbying front: Many former Biden aides have signed contracts with TikTok to help them avoid a ban. The company has successfully sought former Trump and Obama administration officials and major ex-company execs at giants like Disney and Uber. First reported by POLITICO, a prominent ‘Biden-connected firm’ called SKDK has inked a deal with TikTok to represent them in the Halls of Congress. Here is a glimpse at how influential this firm is:

“SKDK is seen as the most well-connected Democratic firm in Washington with former top employees in senior and mid-level roles in the Biden administration. Anita Dunn, a founding partner, returned to the White House last May where she is senior adviser after a stint in the early part of the Biden administration and work on the 2020 campaign.

Other former SKDK employees in the Biden administration include deputy White House communications directors Kate Berner and Herbie Ziskend, deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh and Interior Department press secretary Tyler Cherry.”

Biden’s backup plan: Notably, President Biden is supporting—

the RESTRICT Act, a bill that is designed to ban TikTok yet never explicitly mentions that app itself. Some analysts suspect that if passed, Biden could avoid banning TikTok entirely but still gain from the law’s expansion of federal power.

Our analysis: This story highlights how lobbying efforts and the Washington establishment can crush popular policies. This is happening on two fronts. On the one hand, a simple and popular attempt to ban the app has been lumped in with the RESTRICT Act, bipartisan legislation targeting more than just the controversial app itself. On the other hand, dark money and lobbyists have swarmed elected officials to represent the interests of major corporations.