Disclosure form shows former Biden staffer hired as lobbyist for China-owned TikTok

March 25, 2023
Ben Marquis

Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, as well as parent company ByteDance, have come under increasing bipartisan scrutiny in recent years -- at the federal, state, and local levels -- over concerns about connections to the Chinese Communist Party and the data privacy of the platform's American users.

Now, amid growing calls for TikTok to be restricted or completely banned in the U.S., it has been revealed that the company recently hired a Washington D.C.-based lobbyist, Ankit Desai, who used to work as a staffer for President Joe Biden, the Daily Caller reported.

Desai is just the latest heavyweight D.C. lobbyist with ties to the federal government to be hired by TikTok or ByteDance, and the Chinese-owned companies have spent millions of dollars over the past few years to plead their case and try to win over support on Capitol Hill.

Former Biden staffer hired as TikTok lobbyist

A lobbyist disclosure form dated effective as of Jan. 23 showed that Desai and his consulting business, AND Partners LLC, had registered with Congress as a lobbyist on behalf of TikTok for the purpose of "Issues related to internet technology, regulation of content platforms."

The disclosure noted that TikTok was wholly owned by Cayman Islands-based ByteDance, which in turn is partially owned by British Virgin Islands-based ByteTeam, which itself is wholly owned by China-based billionaire entrepreneur Zhang Yiming.

The form, which was actually signed on March 23, also disclosed that Desai had previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative correspondent for then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) and as a staff assistant for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

TikTok's other Biden connections

The news about Desai now lobbying for TikTok comes just a couple of weeks after Politico reported that TikTok had also hired in recent months the prominent D.C.-based and Democrat-linked SKDK political consulting and public affairs firm to help provide the company with communications support.

SKDK is heavily connected with President Biden in terms of having several of its former top employees now working in mid- to senior-level positions in the Biden administration.

The most senior of those is Biden's senior adviser Anita Dunn, who founded the firm and then left to work on Biden's 2020 campaign and in the early days of his tenure, then briefly returned to the company only to come back to the Biden White House last year.

Politico noted, "Other former SKDK employees in the Biden administration include deputy White House communications directors Kate Berner and Herbie Ziskend, deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh, and Interior Department press secretary Tyler Cherry."

ByteDance heavily involved in the lobbying game

Meanwhile, OpenSecrets reported in February that TikTok's parent company ByteDance has spent more than $13.4 million on lobbying in Washington D.C. since it began doing so in 2019, with the vast majority of that coming during the Biden administration, including a record $5.3 million in 2022 and approximately $5.1 million in 2021.

In fact, the political finance watchdog noted that ByteDance was the fourth-biggest spender in terms of federal lobbying by internet companies, and was surpassed only by Amazon, Google parent company Alphabet, and Facebook parent company Meta.

It also revealed that the Chinese-owned company has hired at least 40 lobbyists, dozens of whom are "revolving door" lobbyists that used to work in the federal government, including at least four former members of Congress and 31 former congressional staffers.

It should be quite clear now that ByteDance and TikTok are trying to make use of their hired lobbyist connections to the Biden White House and Congress to forestall or outright kill any executive or legislative actions to ban or restrict the popular but concerning social media platform in the U.S.

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