CEOs Pay for Advanced Copies of Questions at Senate Hearings
Corporations and powerful elites facing investigations can pay lobbyists for an inside scoop, Twitter File documents show.
In our society, influential figures often face public scrutiny in various ways. When crises such as oil spills or financial scandals occur, we expect our elected representatives to summon top executives and prominent individuals to appear before Congress. The most dramatic example was the 1994 congressional hearing on the dangers of smoking, which featured the heads of seven of the largest tobacco companies. In an iconic moment, each executive testified that they did not believe nicotine was addictive.
It was a watershed not only for tobacco policy, which rapidly transformed following public outcry after the hearing. No chief executive wanted to follow the poor performance of the tobacco executives, all of whom subsequently resigned.
In response, a new lobbying service was born. While many lobbyists help secure the defeat and passage of legislation, a very select group rakes in big dollars to help prepare executives to avoid embarrassing moments. These use access to lawmakers and staff to gather information and help prevent surprises at these hearings.
When researching the Twitter Files last year, I took a slightly different approach than some other journalists. While I broadly investigated issues of censorship and government influence over content-related decisions, I also had an opportunity to take a look at Twitter’s government affairs and public policy work, the euphemism for its lobbying department.
The emails show the special tips and tricks in Washington, D.C., available to those who can pay for it. When legislation that would potentially harm Twitter was set to be released, lobbyists secured an advance copy and shared it with the company. When congressional staff met to discuss technology and legal issues important to Twitter, the lobbyists shared the confidential memos with Twitter’s executives.
And when Twitter and Facebook were slated to testify in 2022 at a Senate oversight hearing concerning foreign influence and extremism on social media, the company’s lobbyists came through again.
In September 2022, about two weeks before the scheduled hearing, Michael Bopp, a former Senate aide specializing in hearing preparation and investigation response, emailed Twitter’s lobbying team. “Here is a draft set of Republican questions we have pulled together,” wrote Bopp, sharing a 16-page memo that outlined the general topic areas and specific lines of questions from the GOP members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
The memo correctly predicted many questions that senators ultimately used during the hearing. Here is what Bopp predicted Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., would ask:
LANKFORD: What is Twitter doing to thwart the use of its platform for illegal activity, including unlawful immigration and drug trafficking, at the southern border?
Here is what Lankford asked the tech executives at the hearing:
LANKFORD: That is what I am trying to say to you, is that I do see all the platforms trying to deal with drug trafficking, but human smuggling and illegally crossing the border is not being enforced. I am not asking you to solve it today. I am raising it as an issue to say somehow we treat cartels different than terrorist organizations. Cartels are transnational criminal organizations that are making money off of moving people illegally into our country and making money off of illegally moving drugs into our country. I would like for our social media platforms to engage with a criminal organization and with criminal activity consistent to your own terms of service.