In The News
John Sarbanes of Maryland, Jerry Nadler of New York and Elijah Cummings of Maryland say Facebook's contribution of expertise to campaigns, to advise them on how best to use its platform, may create a too-cozy relationship between the company and lawmakers who might one day regulate it. The congressmen, in a letter Wednesday , ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a series of questions about how the company manages its so-called embed operation…. "Once the assistance they're offering or the support they're offering gets creative past a certain baseline of services, then you're wandering into dangerous territory," Sarbanes told POLITICO. Nadler and Cummings are ranking members of the Judiciary and Oversight committees, respectively…. Sarbanes said he wonders if Zuckerberg has a firm grasp of what his employees are doing out in the field in the final stretches of often heated campaigns. "You put some support person in a campaign office down South somewhere, and they're sitting next to a campaign operative, and you're getting into the last six weeks of a campaign, who knows what's going on?" he said. "So we're saying to them, 'Tell us what what's going on.'" … Sarbanes argues that Facebook has to be more transparent about the services it provides political campaigns. "If things are being offered that go beyond the standard opportunity presented in the marketplace broadly, then that's a cause for concern," Sarbanes said. "That's what we need to find out."
Mulvaney, the White House budget chief and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told a group of bankers Tuesday that when he served in Congress, his office refused meetings with lobbyists who did not provide political contributions.... Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, who chairs the Democrats' Democracy Reform Task Force, said Mulvaney's comments offered "a prime example of the warped and wicked effect that big money has on our democracy."
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.). Sarbanes asked Zuckerberg to explain how Facebook embeds its employees in political campaigns and what kind of help the social media giant provides to those campaigns. This is why he pursued those questions:
“It all goes to the broader issue of Facebook’s ability, because it is such an important commodity in the communications space, to offer up benefits to clients, including political clients ― including potentially sitting elected lawmakers, who are the very ones who are going to need to turn around, step back, look at arm’s length and decide whether there needs to be some regulation of this entity. So you’re right back to the issue of whether special interests or powerful interests out there are in a position to lean on the gears of the system in a way that can get them special treatment when it comes to public policy.”
What he hopes to find out:
“I’m very interested to know how does this work. Is an embedded Facebook employee sitting next to the chief information officer or the digital tech supervisor of the campaign ― sitting right next to them as they run into problems getting ads approved according to the Facebook requirements and so forth? Can the campaign person turn to that employee next to them and say, ‘Can you help me out? What do we do here?’ And did that result in this real imbalance ― huge imbalance ― in the number of Facebook ads placed for the Trump campaign on the Facebook platform compared with the Clinton campaign. That can obviously tie back to how much each campaign was willing to purchase on the platform. But the approval process for ads can take some turnaround time. And if you have an embedded employee sitting there next to you, you might be able to get that fast-tracked. We don’t know, but these are some of the questions that need to be asked.”
Representative John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland, cut off Mr. Zuckerberg several times as he tried to answer a question about Facebook employees who sit with political campaigns as “embeds” and seek to get the campaigns to use the site for advertising.
Among the more painful moments for Mark Zuckerberg in his second day of Capitol Hill grilling was the angry dressing-down he got from Rep. John Sarbanes. The Maryland Democrat zeroed in not on Facebook’s relationship with the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, but on the fact that Facebook (like Twitter and Google) had employees embedded with the Trump campaign to help craft its digital advertising strategy. For free.... That arrangement may have violated long-standing campaign finance rules that prohibit even in-kind donations from private companies to candidates. Perhaps more than any exchange Zuckerberg had with lawmakers, it is a clear reminder that everyone—including the big tech companies—would benefit from better, clearer rules.... Sarbanes’ questions were prompted by revelations in an October 2017 peer-reviewed study that documented the role employees from Facebook, Twitter, and Google played in “actively shaping campaign communications through their close collaboration with political staffers” on the Trump campaign. The companies have said they offered the same services to the Clinton campaign, which apparently declined the same level of help. That turned out to be a big mistake.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) asked if Facebook offered the Trump campaign stronger assistance than the Clinton campaign by providing an embedded sales staff... Sarbanes cited statistics that showed the Trump campaign placed 5.9 million ads on Facebook in the run-up to the election while the Clinton campaign placed 66,000.... "Can you say with absolute certainty that Facebook or any of the Facebook employees working as campaign embeds did not grant any special approval rights to the Trump campaign?" Sarbanes asked.... Zuckerberg said Facebook offered the same services to both campaigns. But Sarbanes expressed concern that Facebook was acquiring too much political influence.... "I'm worried that that embed program has the potential to become a tool for Facebook to solicit favor from policymakers and that creates the potential for real conflict of interest," Sarbanes said. "A lot of Americans are waking up to the fact that Facebook is becoming sort of a self-regulated superstructure for political discourse."
Democrats questioned Zuckerberg Wednesday about political advertising on Facebook, given the Trump campaign's extensive use of the site during the 2016 campaign.... "I think that's something that hasn't gotten as much attention," Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, said before the hearing. "There needs to be much more transparency about what those set of tools is."
There should be some regulation of Facebook, Rep. John Sarbanes told CNBC on Tuesday.... "They have a tremendous amount of power," the Democratic congressman from Maryland said on "Power Lunch." ... "With that power comes responsibility to protect the privacy of people's data." ... Sarbanes, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will also get a chance to question Zuckerberg when the CEO appears before that committee on Wednesday.... Sarbanes, meanwhile, is more focused on the data issue.... Facebook is not just a "harmless hangout" for your friends, he said. "It's one of the largest data brokerage firms in the world, vacuuming up data on 2 billion people every single day. It's a political ad platform and it's a communication company in many respects."
Rather than selling out to match Republicans dollar for dollar, Democrats can increase their appeal to grass-roots voters by taking a firm stand against corporate influence. And by championing reform legislation such as the Government By the People Act, a plan introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) that would implement a system of matching public funds in federal elections, Democrats can demonstrate that they are committed lifting up the voices of regular voters.... Reform groups such as Every Voice have long argued that the effort to get big money out of politics must also bring people back in, which is what Sarbanes’s bill and many state and local reform laws do. The cost of elections today increases the power of the privileged few while diminishing that of working Americans and, as such, harms democracy itself. Real reform must turn this on its head. As Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer warned in 2014, “Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard” — unless that money comes from the public itself.