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Pa. Senate hopefuls who want to rein in big tech have major stock holdings | Friday Morning Coffee

‘Big tech companies have gained far too much power, and workers, consumers, small businesses, and even our democracy, have paid the price,’ a spokesperson for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Val Arkoosh said

September 3, 2021 7:13 am

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(*A scheduling note: This newsletter will be off on Monday, 9/6/21 for the Labor Day Weekend. We’ll be back to business on Tuesday, 9/7/21. Have a peaceful holiday, wherever the road takes you.)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

When it comes to how he feels about big tech, Jeff Bartos didn’t mince his words.

“From shadow-banning conservatives, censoring content online, biased fact-checking, and now funneling millions of dollars into our elections it’s become clearer than ever: Big Tech must be reined in,” Bartos, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, wrote on Twitter on July 1.

But even as the Montgomery County businessman parroted a popular Republican talking point, he and his wife also were enjoying the financial benefits that come with investing in such big tech titans as Alphabet Inc.which owns Google, and Apple.

Financial disclosure forms that Bartos filed with the U.S. Senate as a requirement for his bid for the GOP nomination in 2022, show that he and his wife jointly and individually hold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock in the Silicon Valley giants.

Bartos isn’t alone. Disclosure forms filed by Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, who’s seeking the Democratic Senate nomination, similarly show individual and joint investments in AmazonAlphabet, and Microsoft that run to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And, like BartosArkoosh says she believes big tech needs to be reined in — albeit for different reasons.

“Big tech companies have gained far too much power, and workers, consumers, small businesses, and even our democracy, have paid the price,” Arkoosh said through a spokesperson.

The disclosure forms only provide ranges for the investments, so nailing down a total dollar amount for either candidate isn’t possible.

But as they head into the thick of one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate contests in the country, the filings do illustrate the tightrope that the hopefuls walk as they talk tough on the outsized influence of big tech, but also see their wealth enlarged by their sizable investments.

The Capital-Star reviewed financial filings for most of the top tier candidates vying to replace U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who is retiring in 2022. Of the field, Bartos and Arkoosh had among the most extensive holdings, the review showed.

Jeff Bartos in his campaign-opening ad. (Bartos campaign)

In a wide-ranging interview with the Capital-StarBartos, who unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, kept up his drumbeat of criticism, even as he defended his investments.

“If anything, it proves I’m not afraid to state my convictions, even if it’s against my financial interests,” he said. “I can advocate for policies that I think are right. As a shareholder, who owns stock, I believe that the company needs to change for the better.” He added that it’s the “responsibility,” and the “duty” of shareholders to lodge such criticisms.

Bartos, who accused social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook of “behaving like Democratic super PACs” for what he believes are unreasonable restraints on speech by conservatives, says he’d support “looking at anti-trust action if these companies don’t take a hard look at what they’re doing and change” their policies.

It’s a familiar grievance. Republican state lawmakers across the country, including Pennsylvania, began pushing legislation that would punish social media companies for policing content on their websites, the Associated Press reported. The efforts began surfacing not long after former President Donald Trump was banished from Twitter and Facebook for spreading baseless claims of election fraud on the platforms.

This week, the Republican-controlled Texas state Senate passed just such a bill along party lines. A similar bill was approved in Florida, but a judge has blocked it from taking effect, according to Houston Public Media.

Bartos, who said he believes that President Joe Biden was the legitimate winner last November, nonetheless believes that social media companies are too heavy handed when it comes to policing conservatives, but are not as vigilant when it comes to progressives.

“They silence conservative voices, or push a particular viewpoint, or push a viewpoint contra to the conservative voices out there,” Bartos told the Capital-Star. “In a perfect world, we should be able stand on a a stage and have a debate. And sensible, good people [should be able to] decide whose arguments are more persuasive, and who has the facts on their sides. I’m not comfortable with the idea that there is one arbiter who can decide that Trump or Bartos should be silenced or allowed to speak.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022 (screen capture)

Arkoosh, whose campaign declined an interview request, said through a spokesperson that she “believes members of Congress owning or trading stocks is a conflict of interest.”

Arkoosh “supports legislation to bar members of Congress from owning and trading stocks, and if elected, would put her eligible assets into a blind trust.” the spokesperson, Rachel Petri, said in an emailed statement.

Petri added that Arkoosh “believes big tech companies have gained far too much power, and workers, consumers, small businesses, and even our democracy, have paid the price.

“That’s why she supports federal efforts to break up big tech companies, overhaul the United States’ outdated antitrust laws in order to promote competition, and ensure that the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission can do their job to enforce those laws,” Petri said.

And while they’re on opposite sides of the aisle, Arkoosh’s and Bartos’ respective criticisms of Big Tech mirror national trends that have Republicans and Democrats uniting on an issue at a time where bipartisan agreement on most issues is elusive at best and impossible at worst.

In June, for instance, a bipartisan cadre of lawmakers on Capitol Hill rolled out a package of antitrust bills, CNBC reported at the time. The bills came in response to an investigation led by U.S. House Judiciary Committee  Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., into the competitive practices of AmazonAppleFacebook and GoogleCNBC reported.

That spirit of bipartisanship has not prevented the issue from being politicized in Pennsylvania. In a statement, Brad Bainum, a spokesman for the progressive super PAC American Bridge, said it was “classic politician behavior for ‘anti-Big Tech’ Jeff Bartos to own hundreds of thousands in tech company stocks.

“If he somehow manages to get out of this messy GOP primary, it’s clear Bartos can’t be trusted to represent Pennsylvania families in Washington,” Bainum said.

But with most Americans harboring the same skepticism, even as they, too, pad their retirement portfolios with Big Tech stocks, one GOP consultant says he doubts the average voter will share in that outrage.

“Even though you own stock in Alphabet, you can still say Google should be reined in because it’s anti-competitive,” Republican consultant Christopher Nicholas, of Harrisburg, told the Capital-Star. “Or there’s Amazon, which is on both sides of the equation. [Political journalists] will notice, but Mr. and Mrs. Pennsylvania will not be overly concerned about it.”

That appears to be what Bartos is banking on as he heads into a competitive campaign season in which former President Donald Trump already has endorsed one-time western Pennsylvania congressional hopeful Sean Parnell.

“The reality is that as [voters] parse through stuff, [they will] understand it through the lens of common sense,” he said.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
In our ongoing series of interviews, Stephen Caruso talks to GOP gubernatorial hopeful Nche Zama.

A House Republican lawmaker is taking heat for comparing COVID-19 vaccinations to sexual assaultCassie Miller reports.

Fourteen Republicans in the state House are suing to strike down Pennsylvania’s vote-by mail law. Eleven of them voted for it, Stephen Caruso reports.

A controversial contractor at the Allegheny County Jail has a criminal history and once served time in the United Kingdom, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a Rutgers University classics scholar and poet has some timeless advice on facing our current flood of bad news. And Jay S. Bookman, a columnist for our sibling site, the Georgia Recorder, says the remnants of the mainstream GOP are sitting idly by as the party is taken over by extremists.

En la Estrella-Capital: En el Día de Concientización sobre Sobredosis, las familias y los defensores llaman a Pa. para ‘renovar el compromiso’ con la lucha contra la epidemia de opioides. Y el Secretario Agricultor Redding: La educación, programas escolares cultivarán la ‘próxima generación ‘ de trabajadores agrícolas.

Row houses in Philadelphia (Capital-Star file)

Elsewhere.
The Inquirer looks at whether sheriff’s sales are allowing more out-of-towners to buy distressed Philadelphia proprerties.

In Pittsburgh, area workers are preparing for the end of federal pandemic unemployment programs this weekend, the Post-Gazette reports.

The prominent University of Washington model shows that Pennsylvania will soon hit its COVID-19 infection peakPennLive reports.

LancasterOnline explains what happens if local schools don’t follow Gov. Tom Wolf’s mask mandate (paywall).

The Morning Call takes stock of how local residents are dealing with the havoc wreaked by Tropical Storm Ida.

Officials have issued evacuation orders for areas around Solomon Creek in Wilkes-Barre, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

WHYY-FM looks at the long road to recovery for some Philadelphia neighborhoods after the storm.

WITF-FM examines how the Sept. 11 attacks changed the lives of Arab and Muslim Pennsylvanians.

An unclaimed burial ceremony planned in Erie has been moved over pandemic concernsGoErie reports.

A new report has found there’s room for improvement for the state’s compliance with open records requirements, City & State Pa. reports (And all the people said … ).

The U.S. Senate’s Dr. NoU.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.has called for a pause on the White House’s $3.5 trillion budget bill, Roll Call reports.

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And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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