WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report revealing new research into the expansive–and expensive–influence campaign being waged by American Edge Project (AEP), the Facebook supported anti-regulatory attack dog. TTP’s exclusive analysis of AEP’s 2020 Form 990 and ad buys provides a look inside the group’s messaging campaign, which aims to use small businesses and anti-China fearmongering to convince lawmakers to oppose antitrust enforcement. Beyond ads, the group has used its Facebook-funded budget to recruit an advisory board that gives it a bipartisan image; issue grants to coalition members that promote its anti-regulatory message; and commission Ipsos polls carefully crafted to solicit results that scare legislators away from legislating.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “American Edge Project allows Facebook to have its cake and eat it too. The company plastered the airwaves over the past year with positive messages about the need for updated internet regulations, all while funneling millions to a dark money group whose sole function is to attack congressional regulatory bills.”
Facebook's Contribution To American Edge Project
According to the 501(c)(4)’s 990 filing, AEP received a single donation between December 10, 2019 and October 31, 2020, for $4 million. In May 2020, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed that Facebook was “contributing to” AEP. Put together, these facts imply that Facebook is not simply a contributor to the project, but its sole funder. The Form 990 also reveals that AEP paid eight of its coalition members between $7,500 and $25,000 in grants in 2020. Over the course of the year, many of these groups fronted AEP’s message by drafting white papers, publishing op-eds, and heavily promoting AEP content on social media.
TTP’s analysis also details how the group spent significantly over the past year on a series of polls commissioned by market research company Ipsos. These polls appear to be carefully designed to support the idea that voters are not in favor of the type of antitrust enforcement that Congress is currently pursuing. The group uses this polling data in op-eds and ads directed at legislators with the clear intention of scaring them away from a continued commitment to antitrust enforcement. For example, during the week of October 28, 2021, AEP touted one of these polls in its sponsorship of the Axios PM Newsletter with the headline: “There’s virtually no constituency for anti-competitive legislation.”
TTP’s report also contains a comprehensive accounting of the group’s ad buys in 2021. TTP estimates that between TV ads, digital ads, and Beltway insider newsletter sponsorships, AEP spent more than $5.4 million on ad buys alone in 2021. This reveals a significant year over-year increase in the group’s budget, which the Form 990 revealed was only $4 million the previous year.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “By all indications, American Edge Project is showing no signs of slowing down. As antitrust legislation gains more and more bipartisan support in Congress, the group is ever eager to push its anti-regulation message to voters, and more importantly, their representatives. As legislators get closer to a vote on these landmark bills, they should be fully informed about the tactics being employed by this dark money group to avoid being fooled by AEP’s corporate-funded, faux-grassroots opposition.”
About Campaign for Accountability
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.