Both sides of Congress have taken shots at big tech over the past year, but Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), who is running a fraught challenge against Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) for his Senate seat—has a stock portfolio that includes shares in a number of the companies that have taken heat from lawmakers.
And with big tech a pressing issue that will crop up again and again over the next few years, will millions in tech money shape just how tough Kennedy could be on Silicon Valley?
Overall, the race has become one of the most closely watched Democratic primaries with party leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and progressive stalwarts like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) weighing in.
But the result of today’s primary could shift various aspects of tech policy in Congress.
Markey has led the charge for a number of tech-related issues like net neutrality and rules surrounding the collection of children’s data. He also has focused heavily on broadband while in office, writing the National Broadband Plan in 2008 and pushing for an update to the National Broadband for the Future Act this year.
The Massachusetts senator is widely known as a champion of net neutrality, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Senior Legislative Counsel telling WBUR last year there is “probably no one who knows the telecom market, with the same detail of the history of competition, more than Ed Markey at this point.”
Then there’s Kennedy. While his stance on net neutrality is not different than Markey’s—the representative has been outspoken against the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal and voted for a maneuver that would restore it—records show that Kennedy holds a wide array of tech stocks, including one internet service provider who has worked against the regulations net neutrality rules put in place.
Over the past few years, Kennedy has listed stocks for several tech companies and telecommunications companies on his annual financial disclosures.
The companies include: Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, and Verizon.
Data from 2019, the most recent available, shows that Kennedy—through jointly held stocks or in various trusts—had Microsoft stock valued between $680,000 and $1,450,000; Amazons stock valued between $200,000 and $450,000; Verizon stock valued between $67,000 and $180,000; Facebook stock valued between $180,000 and $450,000; and Alphabet stock between $545,000 and $1,350,000.
The financial disclosure forms require lawmakers to list the value of the asset, what type of income, and the amount of income earned in various tiers.
Also in 2019, records show Kennedy sold jointly held Verizon stock in July, with a value between $1,000 and $15,000, and sold Alphabet stock in June with a value between $15,000 and $50,000. In April, Kennedy reported the sale of Microsoft stock valued between $1,000 and $15,000.
But the stocks go back further: with Microsoft, Verizon, Alphabet, and Amazon being listed as a jointly held assets on Kennedy’s 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015 disclosures.
As the Center for Responsive Politics points out, in 2018, Kennedy disclosed that he held Microsoft assets that could be valued between $380,000 and $800,000. Some of the Microsoft stock was part of trusts. Kennedy has said he has no input on his family’s trust.
The values in 2018 for other tech or tech adjacent stocks included: between $68,000 and $195,000 in Verizon assets; between $460,000 and $1,100,000 in Alphabet assets; and between $81,000 and $215,000 in Facebook assets.
Verizon was behind a lawsuit that challenged the FCC’s first attempt to regulate internet service providers under Title I of the Communications Act. Because of that suit, the FCC eventually decided to regulate ISPs under Title II, a more restrictive regulatory category.
The assets held by Kennedy raise some questions, according to outside groups.
Jonathan Cohn, the chair of the elections committee at Progressive Massachusetts, told the Daily Dot that he didn’t think Kennedy’s record and statements made it likely that he would be a “champion” for tech issues. Progressive Massachusetts endorsed Markey.
“When it comes to stock ownership … there are some people who might have a lot of money, but they’re also the active champions of regulating … in a way, eliminating their own wealth,” Cohn said. “I don’t see Kennedy as a champion when it comes to taking on the tech industry and when it comes to strengthening civil liberties protections and the need for stronger protections against monopoly.”
Cohn added that it appears that Kennedy has gotten better on data privacy and surveillance issues over his career in Congress.
“In terms of tech stuff, it’s something that Markey has been far more outspoken on,” Cohn said. “I just don’t see Kennedy as somebody who is particularly outspoken in this space.”
However, it’s unclear that owning assets for these companies has affected Kennedy’s stance on issues surrounding them.
While Kennedy listed Facebook in his disclosures, he also grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the company’s advertising and data privacy during a hearing in 2018.
In 2018, following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, Kennedy said “the door is definitely open” for Congress to “step in” and address the social media giant’s data privacy practices.
Markey has been especially critical of Facebook in regards to data privacy. In 2019, when Facebook said it planned to integrate Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger, Markey said the social media giant needeed to offer “more than mere assurances” that the move would “not come at the expense of users’ data privacy and security.”
Neither of the two lawmakers have said much about breaking up big tech, which was a campaign issue for their fellow Massachusetts lawmaker Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during her presidential campaign.
With net neutrality, Kennedy has spoken out against the FCC’s repeal and signed onto a Congressional Review Act (CRA) effort in 2018 to overturn the appeal. While the CRA passed in the Senate, it did not get enough signatures to force a vote in the House. Kennedy was one of the lawmakers who signed on.
However, Cohn stressed that Markey’s absence from the ongoing net neutrality battle could set back efforts to restore the rules.
“If you’re losing somebody who is actively doing work on something and is a source of knowledge and uses that knowledge proactively, that’s a real loss,” Cohn said. “In a way, I just don’t see Kennedy having the same range and not the same issue space where [Markey] has led at all.”