On Thursday, reports broke out that the popular Chinese-owned social media app TikTok has hired a top consulting firm connected with the Biden administration to defend against increasing scrutiny in Washington over its ties to the Chinese Communist government, according to individuals speaking to Politico.
The Biden-connected consulting firm, SKDK, is a public and political affairs organization that provides communications support to the social media company, which has come under intense criticism by Republican and Democratic senators and lawmakers who proposed a bipartisan bill that would grant President Biden the power to restrict and even ban the app in the United States.
The consulting firm is one of the most well-connected Democratic firms in Washington D.C., with former top employees in prominent roles in the Biden White House. Individuals like Anita Dunn, a founding partner of SKDK, returned to the White House in May 2022, serving as a senior adviser after working in the administration’s early days and the President’s 2020 campaign. Other past SKDK employees in the Biden White House include communications directors Kate Berner and Herbie Ziskend, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh, and Interior Department Press Secretary Tyler Cherry.
The firm has faced scrutiny for its clients, parting ways with Starbucks in 2022 as the coffee company tried to fend off a nationwide union organizing effort. In 2021, the firm worked for Amazon, but reports are unclear whether the two companies are still in business together.
According to Politico, a person with direct knowledge of the hire said that the employment of the consulting firm for TikTok came in the last few months.
In 2021, Dunn stated in a financial disclosure document that she advised several American companies in the previous years who have engaged in business before the government, including AT&T, Lyft, Pfizer, and Salesforce. SKDK is owned by the Stagwell Group, which has stressed that it does not lobby the federal government or represent companies on political issues.
The scrutiny that TikTok has faced in Congress has been forming for the past several months after the Trump administration decided to ban the app over its ties to the Communist government in Beijing. Under the Biden administration’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a review is determining the national security implications of the app.
In Congress, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill that could significantly impact TikTok and its presence in America supported by the administration. According to reports, the bill would provide the federal government with new powers to restrict and ban technologies from China and other anti-American nations. Some legal experts believe such a bill could potentially violate the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause.
For the past several months, media reports have revealed the extent to which TikTok tracks ordinary Americans and their data, prompting concern from congressional lawmakers who say that the Chinese government could one day use the data from millions of American users.
To prevent such scrutiny and potential bans, TikTok’s Chinese owner Byte Dance has spent around $13 million on lobbying since 2019, hiring dozens of lobbyists, including former Mississippi Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, former Louisiana Republican Senator John Breaux Sr, former California House Republican lawmakers Jeff Denham and former Tennessee Democrat Representative Bart Gordon.
Despite the lobbying efforts, Republican and Democratic lawmakers continue to raise concerns about TikTok, vowing to ban the app from the US and prevent China from spreading its influence.