Facebook lures top Democrat to its D.C. lobbying ranks

The committee’s jurisdiction includes some of the top issues embroiling Facebook in Congress — including privacy, alleged political bias and the liability shield known as Section 230.

Branscome, a longtime expert on telecommunications policy, will focus on executive branch engagement. As recently as six months ago, NASA administrator and former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) was pushing for Biden to nominate Branscome for a post on the FCC — an agency that has faced its own pressures to rein in social media giants.

The hire is “a stroke of brilliance by Facebook,” said one Democrat who has worked closely with Branscome for years. “You’d be hard-pressed to get somebody more respected than John Branscome in that position.”

The move by Facebook makes sense, said Jeff Hauser, founder of the nonprofit Revolving Door Project, noting that “the threats to big tech are greater from Democrats right now, especially with Democrats controlling the executive branch.” Still, Hauer said the “toxicity” around Facebook imposes a price on people in Washington who join the company’s ranks.

“I think you’re crossing a Rubicon when you go to Facebook,” Hauser said. “You’re foreclosing certain options for you in terms of returning to public service.”

Attempts to reach Branscome for comment were unsuccessful.

Branscome is the chief counsel and top Democratic staffer on Senate Commerce’s telecommunications subcommittee, and before that served as the chief counsel of its internet subcommittee. He will bring a hefty rolodex to Facebook’s network in Washington — his former colleagues on the committee have taken jobs across the Biden administration, including in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Commerce Department.

His job change surprised many of his former colleagues, who traded bemused texts and emails throughout the day Thursday.

Branscome has served in various positions on the Senate Commerce Committee since 2010, overseeing efforts to regulate and rein in the power of Facebook and other tech giants. CEOs of the leading tech companies, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, testified before the committee last year.

Cantwell has accused Facebook of contributing to the destruction of local news outlets and participated in years of negotiations around a potential federal privacy law. But she wished her departing aide well Thursday.

“I want to thank John for his service to the Communications Subcommittee and the Committee writ large for the past 11 years,” Cantwell said in a statement. “His over 20 years of Federal service with the FCC, and then supporting Chairman [Jay] Rockefeller, Ranking Member Nelson, and myself evidences his devotion to public service and his contributions to national communications policy. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Even as it builds ties to Democrats, Facebook maintains close ties to Republicans, who could regain power in one or both chambers as soon as next year.

GOP operative Joel Kaplan — who infuriated Democrats three years ago with his public support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination — remains at the helm of Facebook’s policy shop. Last year, the company hired an aide to Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, one of the House’s most outspoken Republican advocates for tougher antitrust laws aimed at big tech companies like Facebook.

John Hendel contributed to this report.

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