Technology — Verizon

GOP critics sometimes own stock in the Big Tech they’re slamming  

A number of Republican Senate candidates running on anti-Big Tech platforms have stock holdings in the same companies they are vowing to hold accountable if elected to Congress.    

That’s drawn accusations, from Democrats and some fellow Republicans, of hypocrisy.    

Others say arguing that someone won’t hold Facebook or Google accountable because they have stock in the company is a weak attack and that the conflict-of-interest accusations don’t hold water.    

In Ohio, former state GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken has called Big Tech “an arm of the Democrat party” and said that “their immunity privileges must be stripped.” In May, after Facebook said it would keep former President Trump’s account suspended until at least 2023, she said the “censorship of conservatives must end.”    

Timken, who is running in a GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), holds stock valued at between $800,000 and $1.6 million in Google, Facebook and Apple through herself and her family, according to her financial disclosure reports. A spokesperson for the Timken campaign did not respond to requests for comment.    

In Pennsylvania, Republicans running to fill retiring Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R) seat are also campaigning on anti-Big Tech platforms.    

Businessman Jeff Bartos has tweeted about the need to “fight back against Big Tech’s aggressive silencing of conservatives” and that “Big Tech must be reined in.”    

His financial disclosure report shows that Bartos, through his spouse, holds stock valued at between $200,000 and $500,000 in Google. He holds stock in Apple valued between $300,000 and $600,000 through a spouse and in a joint account.    

In an interview with The Pantagraph published in September, Bartos defended his investments. 
 
“If anything, it proves I’m not afraid to state my convictions, even if it’s against my financial interests,” he said. “I can advocate for policies that I think are right. As a shareholder, who owns stock, I believe that the company needs to change for the better.”

The tech stocks could end up becoming a campaign issue.    

Former Ohio state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is also running for Portman’s seat, slammed Republicans for holding stock in companies they’re vowing to regulate.    

“I do not believe that United State senators should be able to secretly obtain information in the halls of the United State Senate and then personally put money in their pockets because of it,” Mandel said at a debate this week with Democratic candidate Morgan Harper.    

“Republicans are just as guilty as Democrats in stuffing money in their pockets,” he added.    

Mandel, an outspoken Big Tech critic, previously owned thousands of dollars in tech giants. He sold off all of his tech stock shortly after joining the race, according to his campaign.    

Mandel’s financial disclosure report filed in August showed he earned thousands of dollars in capital gains income from Apple and Google.    

Another candidate in the Ohio primary, conservative author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, also has been critical of Big Tech. His financial disclosure reports don’t include stock holdings in Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple, though PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel did donate $10 million into a super PAC backing Vance’s run.    

“If you’ve spent any time actually looking at the issue, you’ll see that Peter Thiel is one of the leading voices arguing against the dangers of Big Tech. We wear his support with a badge of honor,” Taylor Van Kirk, a spokesperson for the Vance campaign, said in a statement.

Celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, who is running as a Republican for Toomey’s seat, also vowed to take on Big Tech in his campaign. He has until April to file his disclosure after requesting an extension.    

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Rep. Conor Lamb (Pa.), two of the Democratic candidates looking to flip the seat, do not hold stock holdings in tech giants, based on their disclosures. They’ve also come out in support of proposals to ban congressional stock trading.    

Joe Calvello, a Fetterman spokesperson, said “people are sick of the hypocrisy” of lawmakers making money off the companies they’re supposed to be regulating.    

“That’s wrong,” Calvello said. “You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. If you’re going to go out there saying these are horrible companies, but you’re holding stock in them, what does that say about you and the authenticity of your beliefs?”   

Doug Heye, a GOP strategist, said the investments “certainly opens [candidates] up for criticism, especially the more outspoken that they are.”    

But he said following through on how any potential hypocrisy poses conflicts of interest is a harder argument to follow.    

“Certainly, Democrats may make claims of hypocrisy, but it’s hard to then say that [the candidates] are also trying to enrich themselves by attacking companies that they may have stock in,” Heye said. “So that second argument just wouldn’t work.”    

A Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Val Arkoosh, also holds stock valued at thousands of dollars in Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook. Arkoosh hasn’t issued the same level of scathing criticism of the companies as her GOP opponents, but she’s called for breaking up the companies and has criticized them over the spread of disinformation.    

Campaign spokesperson Rachel Petri said Arkoosh “supports legislation to bar members of Congress from owning and trading stocks, and if elected, would put her eligible assets into a blind trust.”    

In Arizona, Jim Lamon, who is running in the GOP primary to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly (D), has accused Big Tech of “buying our candidates for US Senate.”    

Lamon held stock valued between $1,000 and $15,000 in Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, according to his financial disclosure filed in August. A campaign spokesperson said Lamon divested from individual stocks in December and now owns only funds.    

Jordan Carr Peterson, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, said a candidate owning stocks in companies they criticize is more of a political question than an ethical one since candidates presumably don’t think using their platform to “trash a company” will make its stock value rise.    

“It speaks less to legal ethics or legislative ethics and more to how much can we trust these criticisms as being sincere, or are they just saying this because this because it’s politically valuable to them?” he said.   

Voters may be more on the lookout for candidates putting their “money where [their] mouth is” this year as bipartisan momentum builds in the House and Senate to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks, said Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel ethics at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.    

The push to bar lawmakers from trading stocks is gaining momentum as lawmakers and congressional candidates in both parties seek to capitalize on the proposal’s huge popularity.

“They care that members of Congress are acting in the public interest and not in their own financial interest. I wouldn’t be surprised if it does raise some red flags for voters,” Marsco said.    

“Members of the public are starting to really see what a problem this is. And I think candidates definitely will face some scrutiny on their stock portfolios, especially in light of the reforms that are on the horizon,” she added.    

Updated: 8:09 p.m.

Tags Apple Arizona Donald Trump Facebook Google Mark Kelly Mehmet Oz Ohio Pat Toomey Pennsylvania Rob Portman
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