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Since Democrats took control of the White House and Senate in 2021, there’s been an unprecedented push for voting rights legislation, and lobbying groups are buying in. In the first half of 2021, lobbying groups spent over $151.2 million while lobbying on voting rights and other issues, according to an OpenSecretsanalysis of lobbying disclosure filings. 

Lobbying groups spent the most on H.R. 1 or the “For the People Act,” which Senate Republicans filibustered in June on a party-line vote, preventing Democrats from securing the 60 votes necessary to bring the bill to the Senate floor. There were 122 groups that spent over $119.5 million lobbying the bill and other issues, an OpenSecrets analysis found.

During H.R. 1’s six-month lifespan, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $29.6 million on lobbying expenditures. Its efforts were followed by Facebook’s nearly $9.6 million lobbying spend and Business Roundtable’s $8.8 million, according to OpenSecrets’ analysis. 

The Freedom to Vote Act is the latest in a surge of voting rights legislation backed by large-scale lobbying efforts, and could be brought to the Senate floor for consideration this week. The new legislation, unveiled in September by Sen. Amy Klobuchar(D-Minn.) and several co-sponsors, draws on the For the People Act, and builds on a framework Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) proposed in June. If enacted, the bill would make voting registration automatic, force states to allow same-day voting registration, expand access to early and mail voting, and create new rules for gerrymandering. 

Another prominent voting rights bill, H.R. 4 or the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” passed the House in August and received similar levels of support from lobbying groups. So far, 21 groups have lobbied the bill and poured nearly $10.8 million into H.R. 4 among other issues.

The AFL-CIO has spent $2.4 million while lobbying H.R. 4 and other causes in the first six months of 2021. The union topped the list of the bill’s lobbying spenders. It’s followed by left-leaning nonprofits Sixteen Thirty Fund and Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, which each spent $1.3 million.

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This influx of legislation on voting rights follows efforts from former President Donald Trump and some Republicans to sow doubt in the 2020 election’s result. The former president alleged the election was stolen through irregularities at ballot boxes. However, there isn’t proof to substantiate those charges. 

After the election, several states with Republican governors introduced legislation to restrict access to mail-in voting and same-day voting registration.

More than 425 bills with provisions that restrict voting access and nearly 1,000 bills with expansive provisions have been introduced in 49 states this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Some bills include both provisions that expand voting access and provisions that make voting more difficult.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an election bill in May that sets additional voter identification requirements, prohibits mass mailing of ballots and bans ballot harvesting. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also signed a sweeping new election law this year that limits the number of county drop boxes, shortens the window to request an absentee ballot and requires voters to reapply for absentee ballots in every general election cycle. 

In Texas, a new law limits voting by mail and prohibits drive-through and 24-hour voting. It also expands poll watcher protections and sets up new monthly voter roll reviews to identify noncitizens.

Conservative groups are also spending large swaths of money against voting rights legislation. Heritage Action, a conservative policy advocacy group and sister organization to the Heritage Foundation, launched a $10 million “election integrity” campaign focused on opposition to H.R.1 and action in state legislatures in March.Feel free to distribute or cite this material, but please credit OpenSecrets. 
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Facebook maintained big lobbying expenses ahead of Senate hearing on teen social media use

Unlike some other Big Tech companies, Facebook has consistently increased its lobbying expenditures since 2016 when it spent $8.6 million. Google parent company Alphabetspent almost 31% less on lobbying between 2019 and 2020. Apple and Microsoft had also cut their lobbying expenditures in that time period. Apple spent $3.1 million in 2021 and Microsoft spent $5.1 million so far this year. 

OpenSecrets reported in June that a network of conservative “dark money” organizations had been working with tech giants including Facebook to combat anti-trust legislation. Facebook disclosed collaborating with the National Taxpayers Union and gave the American Conservative Union at least $62,500 as a CPAC sponsor in 2017.

Facebook’s PAC has given money to every senator on the subcommittee except Markey, totaling a combined $190,000 over all their careers, Forbes reported

Facebook has given the most to Schatz, who has received $35,000, and Thune, who received $31,500 to his primary campaign account and his leadership PAC. Schatz’s most recent contribution from the PAC, at $2,500, came on June 30. 

The tech giant’s PAC reported spending $566,895 in the 2020 election cycle and $721,756 in the 2018 election cycle. Republicans received slightly more contributions from the PAC in both elections. Facebook has received increased scrutinyfrom Congress since 2016 after the company was criticized for the spread of disinformation on its platform.

During Thursday’s hearing, Davis wouldn’t commit to Facebook supporting the KIDS Act. Rather, he said the company would follow up at a later time.

“Your company has had this legislation in your possession for months. And you’re testifying here today before the committee that would have to pass this legislation,” Markey said at the hearing. “I just feel that delay and obfuscation is the legislative strategy of Facebook.”Feel free to distribute or cite this material, but please credit OpenSecrets. 
For permission to reprint for commercial uses, such as textbooks, contact OpenSecrets: info@crp.orgRead more OpenSecrets News & Analysis: Influence & Lobbying · Internet · Lobbying