AOC slammed by watchdogs for boosting TikTok: ‘Swampy stuff’

Senator Booker And Representative Ocasio-Cortez At Capitol Press Conference On Borders
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks about border policies outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on January 26, 2023. Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto via AP

AOC slammed by watchdogs for boosting TikTok: ‘Swampy stuff’

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EXCLUSIVE — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has been slammed for her recent defense of TikTok, with watchdogs accusing her of a “conflict of interest.”

Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday released her first video on TikTok and disputed that the social media app should be banned in the United States, a proposal being mulled by the Biden administration over national security and privacy concerns. But since the “Squad” congresswoman helps advise a charity that pocketed $150,000 in December 2022 from TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, she may have a conflict of interest that detracts from her ability to weigh in on ban concerns fairly, watchdog groups told the Washington Examiner.

AOC JOINS TIKTOK TO POST VIDEO SAYING THE APP SHOULD NOT BE BANNED IN THE US

“Congressional caucuses, through their foundations, can and do accept unlimited amounts of money from special interests, including foreign entities,” Peter Flaherty, CEO of the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative ethics group, said in an interview. “It’s a matter of deep concern, it’s a conflict of interest for her to be shilling for TikTok at the same time that the company is bankrolling entities with which she’s affiliated.”

Another watchdog said the appearance of Ocasio-Cortez boosting TikTok as she advises a group benefiting from its influence “is the kind of scummy Washington stuff that everybody hates.”

“I don’t know if it’s a conflict. I think it’s more her doing the bidding of high donors,” Tom Jones, president of the American Accountability Foundation, told the Washington Examiner. “I don’t think she has any benefit, per se, but it’s kind of typical ‘swampy’ stuff.”

Congress is debating a comprehensive ban on TikTok after President Joe Biden banned the app from government devices as part of his signing a $1.7 trillion spending package in December 2022. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled last week in a congressional hearing about the company’s privacy practices, connections with China, and handling of children’s data. He found very few lawmakers sympathetic to his claims.

Members of Congress have proposed several bills to restrict TikTok in the U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has written a bill to ban the app outright. In contrast, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) have introduced legislation to provide extra powers to the Commerce Department to analyze and determine if foreign business deals are security risks.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interdepartmental agency that reviews U.S. sanctions with international businesses, demanded that ByteDance sell its stake in TikTok or risk a national ban for the app.

Ocasio-Cortez said in her video over the weekend that a TikTok ban wouldn’t address “the core of the issue,” which is that social media companies face no “significant regulation” while collecting personal data from users. She also called a ban “unprecedented,” noting that the app “has over 150 million Americans on it.”

Still, watchdogs are raising concerns over the defense considering Ocasio-Cortez sits on the advisory council of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a nonprofit group affiliated with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. ByteDance contributed $150,000 on Dec. 12, 2022, to the institute, with the money being used to bolster caucus members, according to lobbying disclosures reviewed by the Washington Examiner.

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“As always, we hope that the substance of the issue or the arguments for or against are driving any public pronouncements, but clearly the appearance of a conflict of interest is hard to ignore,” Michael Chamberlain, director of the ethics watchdog Protect the Public’s trust, told the Washington Examiner. “Whenever a large donor becomes the beneficiary of a high-profile official’s support, that inevitably feeds into the perception that there could be a conflict.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s office and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute did not reply to requests for comment.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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