Federal law lets political action committees wait weeks, even months, to reveal which candidates benefit from their cash.
But Twitter’s nascent PAC, which is poised to make its first-ever federal campaign contributions, plans to disclose such donations within 48 hours — tweet-like speed, relatively speaking, company officials tell the Center for Public Integrity.
“Timely disclosure is something we could do. We figured, ‘Why not?'” said Colin Crowell, Twitter’s head of global public policy.
Crowell added that Twitter, Inc. #PAC intends to donate to federal candidates this election cycle. While not yet naming names, he said the PAC would aim to support candidates who, for example, support patent law changes, government surveillance reforms and strong digital privacy policies.
Is Twitter attempting to make a statement or get other PACs to follow its example?
“We just think it’s the right thing to do for Twitter,” Crowell said.
Twitter’s PAC has raised about $95,000 — and spent less than $800 — since its creation in August 2013 and the end of June, according to Federal Election Commission records. The money came from employee contributions. Its next campaign finance filing is not required to be submitted until January.
In an update to its corporate political policies, Twitter will also publicly disclose its trade association memberships and membership costs, as well as any financial associations it has with nonprofit “social welfare” organizations, which aren’t required to reveal their donors.
Some social welfare groups have spent significant amounts of money advocating for and against political candidates since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which enabled such direct political spending.
Will Twitter’s voluntary actions start a disclosure trend? “Probably not,” said David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, which supports limited campaign finance regulations.
“It’s a free country. People can say what they want,” Keating added.
Twitter’s new policies come at a time when the company is expanding its presence in Washington, D.C., where most members of Congress and practically every government agency has a Twitter account.
It’s also a period of tumult for the nine-year-old, San Francisco-based firm. Twitter has watched its stock price plunge, and last month, it installed its co-founder Jack Dorsey as its new chief executive officer.
Twitter first began lobbying the federal government in 2013, spending $90,000 on lobbying efforts that year.
In 2014, its lobbying spending soared to $310,000, and through the first nine months of 2015, the company has already spent $330,000, according to congressional records. More than half of its total this year came during the third quarter alone, as the company pressed lawmakers and the White House on issues including commercial data security, email privacy and National Security Agency surveillance.
Crowell said Twitter increasingly cares about such issues because they “go to the heart of what makes Twitter special.”
Today, Twitter employs two in-house federal lobbyists and has contracted with three outside lobbying firms this year, according to records maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics. Both Twitter’s lobbying team and overall expenditures, while growing, remain significantly smaller than those of other prominent tech companies such as Facebook and Google.
Twitter is also teaming with CBS to co-host a Democratic presidential candidate debate on Nov. 14 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Twitter has previously hosted a variety of other political and government-related events, including a Twitter Town Hall at the White House in 2011.
Earlier this year, Twitter angered some political transparency advocates by effectively killing Politwoops, a three-year-old project by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation that archived politicians’ deleted tweets.
In a statement at the time, Twitter explained that third-party organizations preserving deleted tweets were violating the company’s developer agreement.
“Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress,” Twitter wrote.
This story was co-published with Al Jazeera America.
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