by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A new lawsuit is inflaming tensions on the right between the powerful, business-friendly Koch political network and a rising coalition of populist conservatives pushing for a crackdown on Silicon Valley.
The lawsuit seeks emails and other communications between staffers at a Commerce Department tech agency and outside policy gurus who support the Trump administration’s campaign to reign in social media behemoths like Facebook. Some of those targeted even include Koch allies who say the well-heeled and influential network is trying to scare partners into silence.
At the heart of the dispute is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects companies like Twitter from lawsuits over content that appears on their platforms. Many Republicans, including President Trump, believe the shield should be amended or rescinded, citing bias on the part of social media giants. Pro-business elements like the Koch network say that reform would threaten innovation and free speech and that they’re waging a determined fight against any changes.
“They are so ideological about this particular issue,” said the Conservative Partnership Institute’s Rachel Bovard, who is targeted in the lawsuit. “It’s a shot across the bow to people that they work with.”
The debate betrays the growing personal acrimony developing among Republicans over big tech. The Koch network commands tens of millions of dollars and serves as an important gatekeeper for conservative Washington. Its hard-knuckled approach to the Section 230 fight suggests a new level of bitterness that may divide Republicans well into the Biden administration.
Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), a political group bankrolled by libertarian powerbroker Charles Koch, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal court seeking communications from Adam Candeub and Nathan Simington, two recently departed staffers at a Commerce Department agency that helped craft President Trump’s campaign against social media behemoths.