Working the Refs

Find Out Which Groups Get Big Tech Funding

Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have built massive influence operations, in part by funding an array of third-party groups. A new tool from TTP shows where the tech money is going.

This report and the database were updated on May 30, 2022.

Big Tech companies are spending record sums on lobbying as they face growing regulatory scrutiny in Washington and the states. But the companies have also engaged in a more subtle form of influence building, funding everything from think tanks to advocacy groups to local chambers of commerce—which are involved in key policy debates and often serve to amplify the tech giants’ views.

It’s not always clear which groups get tech funding, making it difficult to see the hidden hand of companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. Now, a new tool from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) is shedding light on Big Tech’s extensive reach with these groups. This searchable database gives a quick readout on whether organizations have received funding from the tech companies since 2015.

Some caveats: The database, which covers the period from 2015 to 2022, for now relies on the companies’ voluntary disclosures about which groups they fund, and there are a few gaps. When TTP collected its latest round of data, Amazon and Apple had yet to disclose third-party funding recipients beyond 2020, and Google’s disclosures hadn't changed since 2021. (TTP was also not able locate Apple’s 2016 list of third-party groups.)

But TTP plans to continue expanding this database in the months ahead, adding more information as it becomes available and compiling additional details from media reports and nonprofit IRS 990 forms as well as other sources.

The database has already yielded some interesting insights:

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As you can see the from the above chart, Google and Facebook disclosed funding a comparable number of organizations between 2015 and 2017, but Google skyrocketed past Facebook in 2018 and continued growing in 2019, before dipping a bit. Meanwhile Amazon, which started at the bottom of the pack, quickly caught up to its tech peers and nearly matched Google’s numbers in 2020.

During the 2018-2019 time period that Google accelerated its funding of outside groups, the company faced mounting pressure on a number of fronts, including passage of California’s landmark consumer privacy law and federal anti-sex trafficking legislation that chipped away at the internet industry’s longtime liability protection for content posted by users. Amazon’s more recent surge coincided with growing antitrust pressure on the ecommerce giant and the company’s aggressive push to secure government cloud computing contracts.

The database reveals Big Tech’s expansive reach when it comes to these groups. Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple have funded over 900 third-party organizations since 2015, including not only tech- and science-based groups, but groups devoted to immigration, foreign relations, business development, minority and women’s rights, health, education, transportation, tax reform, music, the wireless industry, retailers, addiction, and child protection. They include trade and advocacy groups, partisan organizations (both conservative and liberal), foundations, university programs—even downtown associations.

The data shows that nine groups have received funding from all four tech giants—Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple—though not necessarily in the same year. The organizations are made up of trade associations and business councils, the only type of group that Apple discloses funding.

However, when Apple is excluded from the tally, the number of organizations funded by the three remaining companies (Google, Facebook and Amazon) jumps to 82 and encompasses a broad range of politics- and policy-oriented groups—for example, the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations, the Progressive Policy Institute, the New America Foundation, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the American Antitrust Institute, and Americans for Tax Reform.

Many of these groups provide reliable cover to Big Tech companies as they come under increasing attack from lawmakers and government officials. The Progressive Policy Institute, for example, has pushed back on calls to break up the tech giants; criticized the House Judiciary antitrust report that found Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple abused their monopoly power; and testified at legislative hearings in defense of Big Tech.

The left-leaning New America Foundation, meanwhile, ousted a prominent Google critic after reportedly receiving a complaint from Eric Schmidt, then the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet and a major donor to the foundation. The Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank at George Mason University, consistently argues for less government intervention in markets, including tech markets—an appealing position for the country’s biggest tech companies. (A March 2021 TTP report explored how tech-funded GMU has infiltrated the Federal Trade Commission through a revolving door and internship pipeline.)

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Type the name of an organization into the search box below, or scroll through the list.

Click here to download data on tech company funding of outside groups.

The database has been corrected to reflect that the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies was not listed on Amazon’s 2018 disclosure.

Note: Future of Music Coalition said Google continued to include it in disclosures after funding ceased in 2016.