In The News
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.
Democrats in Congress were quick to criticize the agency chief. “From the very beginning, Scott Pruitt has acted as if the E.P.A. is his own personal fiefdom,” Representative John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland, who sits on the House committee that oversees the agency, said in a statement.
“Scott Pruitt has demonstrated right from the beginning, in fact even before he got to Washington, DC, that he doesn’t know where the ethical lines are between public office and private interest,” Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland, told BuzzFeed News. Sarbanes is on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has oversight over the EPA.... In the case of the apartment, Sarbanes added, “Whether he was getting a sweetheart deal from the wife of a lobbyist of an energy industry, and then turned out and did some favors for a particular company in the energy industry — these are all particular questions that need to be asked and answered.” ... “I think with Pruitt, the question is what else is there?” Rep. Sarbanes told BuzzFeed News. “It's conceivable he’ll come up with a perfectly good explanation for all this. It’s hard to see it right now.”