How GOP megadonor is fueling China’s Tiktok amid national security concerns
BY GABE KAMINSKY Washington Examiner
The Gazette, Colorado Springs
While few issues gain bipartisan support in Washington, the idea of banning Tiktok has emerged as a middle ground for Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But one billionaire Republican financier, Jeff Yass, is deeply invested in Tiktok’s Chinese parent company Bytedance and could stand to lose major sums should the social media app be outlawed in the United States. And many on the Right want to send a message to the GOP’S wealthy donor class: Stop pumping cash into entities they say are opposed to America’s national security interests. “Conservative philanthropists, and their grant recipients, need to consider more carefully the relationship between their investments and the sources of civilizational health or decay,” Ryan P. Williams, president of the conservative Claremont Institute think tank, told the Washington Examiner. “Tiktok is a cancer on Western civilization and self-government.” Over a dozen attorneys general on Monday expressed support for Montana’s efforts to ban Tiktok, stating the app “intentionally engages in deceptive business practices which induce individuals to share sensitive personal information that can be easily accessed by the Chinese Communist Party.” Earlier this year, the Biden administration gave Bytedance an ultimatum to either sell off Tiktok or soon face a ban, which continues to be mulled by Congress. Bytedance, which is headquartered in Beijing and incorporated in the Cayman Islands, has been the target of a Justice Department investigation over its apparent spying on U.S. journalists. Sen. Josh Hawley (RMO) has said the U.S. “should act decisively to ban Tiktok directly,” while Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) in early 2023 was joined by over two dozen Democrats and Republicans to introduce the RESTRICT Act, which would propose the Commerce Department have authority to review business transactions for technology products linked to a “foreign adversary” of the U.S, and present “undue and unacceptable risk” to U.S. national security. “Any platform the Chinese government is using to intentionally manipulate American culture should be banned,” Executive Director Wade Miller of Citizens for Renewing America, a conservative group headed by ex-office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, told the Washington Examiner. In other words, there is strong backing among the Right to take action against Tiktok, which they view to be a proxy for the CCP. But not everyone is on the same page. Susquehanna International Group, Yass’s investment firm, purchased a stake in 2012 in Bytedance now worth roughly 15%, the Wall Street Journal reported, noting he personally has a 7% stake in the Chinese company valued at $21 billion. And that $21 billion isn’t far off from the billionaire’s net worth — Forbes estimates Yass has roughly $29 billion. Yass has also donated $61 million since 2017 to the influential GOPaligned Club for Growth, whose president, ex-rep. David Mcintosh (R-IN), penned an op-ed in March pouring cold water on a Tiktok ban proposal, stating that handing “the government the power to ban apps and pick and choose between competing apps is a huge restriction on phone freedom.” “We oppose censorship, giving President Biden undefined broad authority to go after private businesses, and using regulations to shut down competition — all of which would happen under the proposed legislation,” Mcintosh told the Washington Examiner. He was referring to the DATA Act, a bill led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael Mccaul (R-TX) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), which aims to give Biden the power to ban Tiktok. Mcintosh also told the Washington Examiner, “The government should not be in the business of telling people what to put on their phone.” “Tiktok has used America’s First Amendment to try to protect itself from being shut down as a tool of our enemies,” Dan Schneider, vice president of Media Research Center’s Free Speech America, a conservative anti-censorship group, told the Washington Examiner. “It should not have First Amendment privileges.” Yass was notably the third largest right-leaning donor in the 2022 elections, pouring $49 million to boost conservative-tied causes and candidates, according to OpenSecrets, a campaign finance tracker. He’s also made donations to Gov. Ron Desantis’s (R-FL) state PAC in the past and recently gave six figures to a committee aligned with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who, like the Florida governor, is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Scott in May introduced a bill that would require the government to form a list of “adversarial governments” with control over an app’s design and content choice, and, at the moment, would hypothetically support a Tiktok ban but doesn’t think it’s feasible, according to a source familiar with his thinking. DeSantis signed a bill banning Tiktok in schools in May, and in August said, “I think so,” when asked if he would “ban Tiktok” outright.