As Democrats in Washington cement their grip on the reins of federal government, Florida Republicans are flexing their conservative muscle in the run-up to the 2021 legislative session.
This week alone, committees pushed through GOP-backed legislation that would expand school vouchers, relieve businesses of coronavirus-related liability and broaden the authority for people with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns to church.
Gov. Ron DeSantis also took aim at big tech firms in a 45-minute news conference Tuesday in which he railed against Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and Apple for cutting off former President Donald Trump.
Twitter blocked Trump after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s November election. Amid FBI reports that Trump backers were planning more mayhem following the insurrection, Apple and Amazon stripped Parler, a social-media app used by many conservatives, from their platforms.
But DeSantis, a staunch ally of Trump, stopped short of blaming the tech behemoths for Trump’s loss to Biden.
DeSantis pivoted when asked by a reporter whether the president bears any responsibility for the attack on the Capitol and if he agrees with Trump that the election was “stolen.”
The governor, who served in Congress, pointed to Democrats’ allegations that Russians interfered with the 2016 election that vaulted Trump into the White House.
“Did any of those people get de-platformed? … They did an exhaustive investigation and found squat,” DeSantis said, blaming social media for having “amplified” claims of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
“If you’re going to have one standard, then that would be one thing. But that’s the problem,” the governor, joined by House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson, told reporters.
While acknowledging “some speech could even be harmful for society,” DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, continued his riff against big tech.
“But who gets to make those determinations? Who gets to draw that line? And when you’re somebody that’s perched in Silicon Valley and you’re woke and you believe George Washington and Abraham Lincoln should be removed from the schools and you have all these different views, you’re not someone that’s going to be a referee, just as I may not be someone who would referee speech as you think would be important,” he expounded.
“That is the problem with all this. It can’t be done in a principled way. It’s going to be done (in a way) that exhibits the bias of the people in Silicon Valley.”
DeSantis and the GOP legislative leaders laid out a plan to punish tech corporations for blacklisting users or putting gags on social-media posts.
But the five tech leviathans are huge earners for Florida’s investment portfolio, according to the State Board of Administration. The board manages Florida’s pension plan as well as investments for more than two dozen other accounts.
Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google (which is publicly traded as Alphabet) and Twitter reaped $3.1 billion for the state last year. The state’s investment in the big five — known colloquially as FAAAT — was just shy of $8 billion, according to information provided by State Board of Administration manager of external affairs John Kuczwanski.
DeSantis said legislation targeting the companies could include such sanctions as a $100,000-a-day fine for each day a candidate is removed from a platform.
The plan also could require technology companies’ promotion of candidates to be recorded as campaign contributions with the state elections office, he said. Tech companies could also be prohibited from blocking or partially blocking posts by or about political candidates, a practice known as shadow banning.
DeSantis, however, isn’t proposing that the state shed its investments in the corporate giants.
“I’m open to it,” he said when asked about such a move. “But I don’t think that would markedly change the behavior of big tech. These are really big companies.”
The five companies make up about 7.8 percent of the state’s global equity portfolio, which totaled around $103 billion at the end of December.
The companies “blew past” the state’s 16.35 percent benchmark for global equity investments, Kuczwanski told the News Service of Florida in a phone interview.
For example, the annual return on Facebook was more than 81 percent. At 31 percent, the return on Alphabet Inc. was the lowest of the five tech companies.
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