Federal law permits a significant lag time for political action committees in reporting specific candidate donations, often with waits as long as weeks or even months to say exactly who they gave cash.
According to reporting by the Center for Public Integrity, Twitter’s emerging PAC, which is just beginning to make federal contributions, wants to cut disclosure time down to about 48 hours. That speed mirrors the immediacy of Twitter’s core product.
“Timely disclosure is something we could do. We figured, ‘Why not?'” Colin Crowell, Twitter’s head of global public policy, said to reporter Dave Levinthal.
Although Crowell would not specifically provide names, he did say the Twitter Inc. #PAC expects donations to federal candidates to start in the 2016 election cycle. The company will primarily target candidates who support issues such as patent law reform, government surveillance and digital privacy.
Federal Election Commission reports that since its creation in 2013, the Twitter PAC has raised only about $95,000, spending only a fraction of that. A majority of the money came from employee participation. Twitter’s corporate website offers updated policies on political activities, and management says the company will disclose all trade association memberships, membership costs, and other financial relationships with nonprofit organizations, even those with “social welfare” groups not required to release names of donors.
Levinthal notes that many social welfare groups have been particularly active in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited direct political spending.
Some see Twitter’s new push for transparency – coming at a time of its increased influence in Washington – as the beginning of a disclosure trend. Others are more reserved, including David Keating, who’s president of the Center for Competitive Politics.
“It’s a free country. People can say what they want,” Keating told Levinthal, adding that Twitter’s openness is “probably not” going to catch on.
Twitter began its lobbying efforts in 2013 spending about $90,000 that year. The amount jumped to $310,000 in 2014 and to $330,000 for the first nine months of 2015 alone.
A large portion of this year’s lobbying fees (Twitter now employs two in-house federal lobbyists and contracts with three lobbying firms) came in the third quarter, as the company began pushing issues such as email privacy, National Security Agency surveillance and commercial data security.
Those are matters Crowell says goes “to the heart of what makes Twitter special.”