While TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s recent Capitol Hill testimony was widely panned as ineffective in convincing critics of the platform that its Chinese owners were not sharing user data with that country’s communist regime, the company appears to be pursuing an alternate path toward influencing the U.S. government.
According to recent reports, lobbyists and consulting firms working on behalf of TikTok sent representatives to the White House at least 40 times in the past year alone.
Since 2019, TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have reportedly spent $13 million on lobbying generally aimed at federal Democratic officials.
Among the lobbyists who have visited the White House multiple times is former U.S. Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), who currently works for the consulting firm Crossroads Strategies. He made at least three trips in the past year.
The precise nature of these dozens of White House trips was unclear from visitor logs, but experts on U.S.-China relations say the optics are troubling.
Michael Sobolik of the American Foreign Policy Council said that the administration’s apparent susceptibility to TikTok lobbyists is “probably because they’re highly dependent on the app for political reasons.”
In fact, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo complained that if Democrats push for a national TikTok ban, they would “lose every voter under 35 forever.”
Of course, President Joe Biden has claimed that he would be willing to sign such a ban, but skeptics say legislation proposed on both sides of the aisle are focused far more on policing the actions of individuals online than protecting U.S. citizens from the actions of the Chinese-owned company.
My thoughts on the RESTRICT Act
"I have no affinity for TikTok, I think it probably is caustic to our society," Massie said, but "the cure is worse than the disease, for sure."https://t.co/YrUfhvWxFE
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) April 19, 2023
“The Biden administration claims to be serious about TikTok, but the facts suggest otherwise,” Sobolik added. “Democratic operatives are already planning to push Biden’s reelection agenda on the Chinese-controlled app.”
In the wake of Chew’s problematic congressional testimony last month, however, analysts like CFRA Research’s Angelo Zino indicated that a U.S. TikTok ban or forced sale seemed all but certain.
“We don’t think anything said by Mr. Chew alleviated concerns about sensitive TikTok data eventually reaching the Chinese government,” he explained. “We come away with the belief that an outright sale or ban is looking increasingly likely in the next 12-18 months.”