Sen. Elizabeth Warren targeted a top public policy executive at Facebook on Tuesday as she promoted a plan to take on what she said is a corrupt Washington practice: Corporations hiring well-connected former government officials.
In a series of tweets, Warren singled out Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, saying he was “flexing his DC Rolodex to help Mark Zuckerberg wage a closed-door charm offensive with Republican lawmakers.”
Kaplan is a former deputy White House chief of staff who served under President George W. Bush. Following his hiring in 2011, Warren said, Facebook went on a lobbying spree, spending over $71 million. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the figure to date is closer to $74.6 million. The company spent less than $400,000 in each of 2009 and 2010, prior to Kaplan’s hiring.
In recent months, Zuckerberg has made multiple visits to Washington — with Kaplan sometimes in tow — and has sought private meetings with some of his biggest critics, including Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.
Other prominent officials from government or politics whom Facebook has hired include Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom; Kevin Martin, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; and Katie Harbath, a former House staffer who went on to lead digital strategy for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign and for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Facebook declined to comment.
Warren’s attack marks another escalation in her feud with the technology giant, following her calls to break up the company and her criticism of Facebook’s policies on truthfulness in politicians’ advertising.
Warren’s plan would ban large businesses across the economy from hiring ex-government officials for four years after they leave office, threatening repeat violators with fines worth up to 5% of their annual profits.
“Giant corporations should compete on a level playing field,” her plan reads, “and they shouldn’t be able to rig the system by scooping up every available former government official in an effort to get federal regulators off their backs.”
The plan would also apply to federal contractors.
Warren also went after Kaplan over his apparent support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Kaplan and Kavanaugh are personal friends and fellow Bush administration colleagues.
When Kaplan sat directly behind Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings last year, it provoked a strong backlash from Facebook employees who were surprised by the move.
Kaplan later told a gathering of Facebook colleagues that it was a mistake not to have advised Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg about the appearance beforehand. Zuckerberg and Sandberg were frustrated about Kaplan having “inserted” Facebook into a political moment, a person familiar with the meeting told CNN at the time.