Tech companies learned the hard way that political contributions are a necessity, says Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, which tracks political disclosures and spending. Microsoft hardly spent anything on politics until it was hit with an antitrust suit, which the giant lost, during the Clinton administration.

“Microsoft was basically hands off in Washington,” he said. “The antitrust suit was filed and they ramped up at warp speed.”

“Will the pause continue?”

Here at least, Stanford’s Melamed, a former assistant attorney general who headed the Justice Department’s antitrust division, is skeptical that political spending will protect big tech from antitrust concerns.

He thinks the money can shape policy and influence the appointments at antitrust agencies, but that’s not been the main driver of their cautious approach to enforcement in recent years. He instead points to “widespread conservatism in antitrust thinking,” in particular, at the Supreme Court. Tech companies also represent a new challenge for officials, which may have slowed their response.

There are some protections in place. Since the Nixon administration, there’s been an expectation that these agencies would be sheltered from White House influence, Melamed says. Even the FTC, which isn’t immune to the desires of Congress, is a multiparty institution.

“Antitrust officials are usually chosen for substantive expertise and usually are not actively involved in constituent or contributor relations in Washington, and antitrust law itself is a rather technical field,” he said.

Freed at the Center for Political Accountability agrees that, at a minimum, political spending can facilitate conversations and open doors. But while corporate executives are panicked about who they’re associated with at the moment, he’s not convinced corporate political spending will disappear.

“Right now it’s easy for them to pause—the election is over and they’re not being asked to give,” he said. “But that asking will start up again in the fall. That question is, will the pause continue?”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed employee campaign contributions to Facebook. The company spent more than $16 million on lobbying in last year’s election cycle, up from $8.7 million in 2016, not more than $24 million and $13.5 million, respectively.

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