- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Koch Network is entering the Big Tech scrum, urging the industry’s biggest companies to fight regulation and avoid caving to pressure to curb political ads.

The network, which is the right-leaning political organization associated with billionaire Charles Koch, has developed plans to focus its groups on issues such as regulation, data collection, surveillance, emerging technologies and free speech.

Operating under the umbrella of “Stand Together,” the network published a manifesto detailing the principles its advocates and activists think tech companies should follow. The list of principles is a marker for policymakers, businesses and lobbyists to understand where the Koch Network stands and what it wants to accomplish.

The new push is designed to get companies to resist political officials’ efforts to “launder power” and oppose activists working to restrict speech online, said Jesse Blumenthal, Stand Together vice president and Charles Koch Institute director of technology and innovation.

“I think there’s a real void in the space where there are a number of activists both on the left and on the right that are trying to co-opt political pressure on businesses into pursuing short-term goals at the expense of long-term values,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “I think it’s an opportunity to articulate a better way.”

The Koch Network’s new tilt toward tech policy will involve many groups, including well-known entities such as Americans for Prosperity and the Charles Koch Institute. The new advocacy effort will be focused on business, as opposed to many of its other projects aiming at affecting government, and intends to build on the network’s shift toward policy goals over political outcomes.

As part of its ongoing efforts, the Charles Koch Institute and its accompanying foundation were among the sponsors of the “State of the Net Conference” in Washington on Tuesday. The conference, which bills itself as the “largest Internet policy conference in the U.S.,” is run by the Internet Education Foundation and brings together 300 congressional staff and federal policymakers from the White House, departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, and State among others.

Speakers at Tuesday’s conference included Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican; Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican; and Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Election Commission. Lead sponsors of the event include Comcast, Facebook, Microsoft and Verizon.

Mr. Blumenthal, who also addressed the conference, said much of the conversation he looked to foster Tuesday surrounded free expression and the role of government online and in the private sector. The public release of the Koch Network’s new tech policy agenda was “industry and business model agnostic,” Mr. Blumenthal said, as part of an effort to reach the widest audience possible.

Several tech policy influence efforts have been mounted in recent months from both the left and the right. The Lincoln Network is building a right-leaning coalition that meets in private in Silicon Valley to wield greater influence over the tech sector, while the liberal public relations firm Unbendable Media has aimed at targets such as Facebook for being insufficiently progressive.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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