Official White House visitor records show that lobbyists for the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok visited the White House at least 40 times in the past year.
As bipartisan support grows for banning TikTok over concerns that the app is spying on Americans and pushing harmful content to minors, the Chinese-owned social media app and its parent company ByteDance have begun desperately lobbying to prevent the ban.
TikTok has hired high-powered firms for lobbying and strategic consulting — such as influential Democratic public relations firm SKDK — to aid in their efforts, spending $13 million on federal lobbying since 2019.
Those lobbyists have spent a significant amount of time at the White House, according to the visitor records. One such individual is former Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), who now works as a TikTok lobbyist at Crossroads Strategies. Breaux visited the White House at least three times in 2022, most recently showing up to an event on December 21. He also reportedly had a meeting with White House official John Podesta in November.
One of Breaux’s lobbyist colleagues, Stephanie Leger Short, also attended a meeting with a White House adviser, Mitch Landrieu, on June 23.
Another ByteDance lobbyist, Lauren Aronson, also visited the White House in September at least twice. Paul Thornell, a ByteDance lobbyist who works for Mehlman Consulting, also visited the White House at least three times in 2022.
The 2022 White House visitor logs also show that former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) visited at least four times, meeting with presidential special assistant John McCarthy in August and White House adviser Mariana Adame in September. According to Politico, Crowley helped to arrange meetings for TikTok on Capitol Hill in March.
Another concerning coincidence is that a former Biden campaign spokesman, Jamal Brown, was hired by TikTok in November. Brown made numerous visits to the White House in June, August and December of 2022.
In recent months, TikTok hired the well-connected Democratic public affairs firm SKDK. Many executives at the firm were also frequent guests at the White House — including Hilary Rosen, a partner at the firm, who visited at least five times since June 2022. Two other SKDK executives, firm partner Oren Shur and chief executive Douglass Thornell, had a December 20 meeting with White House official Caitlin Meloski, who serves as a special assistant to the National Economic Council.
Although it is unclear what these lobbyists discussed during their meetings at the White House, and it is not confirmed that the subject of TikTok was even brought up, the number of connections between TikTok and the Biden administration is concerning.
However, the Biden administration has appeared to be supportive of banning TikTok in recent months — but the only legislation that seemed to have bipartisan support was just a smokescreen that would give the government more power while not actually requiring them to take any action against TikTok.
RESTRICT Act, Labeled a ‘TikTok Ban,‘ Includes Jail Sentences, Huge Fines for American Citizens https://t.co/oD602ARUC0
— ALX 🇺🇸 (@alx) March 29, 2023
Meanwhile, critics argue that the Democrats’ reluctance to actually ban TikTok is likely because the Chinese social media app is incredibly valuable to Democratic political campaigns — as it connects them to young progressives, helping them reach the demographic ahead of the 2024 election. This claim was confirmed in recent comments from Biden’s Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who said that Democrats could “lose every voter under 35, forever” if they ban TikTok.
“If administration officials appear highly susceptible to TikTok’s lobbying efforts, it’s probably because they’re highly dependent on the app for political reasons,” said Michael Sobolik, a China expert at the American Foreign Policy Council. “The Biden administration claims to be serious about TikTok, but the facts suggest otherwise.”
“Democratic operatives are already planning to push Biden’s reelection agenda on the Chinese-controlled app,” Sobolik added.