TikTok Owner Uses Back Door to Donate in Honor of Members of Congress

Chinese company ByteDance does not have a PAC, but it still found a way to make donations honoring hundreds of members of Congress.

TikTok Owner Uses Back Door to Donate in Honor of Members of Congress

A growing number of U.S. senators and representatives are raising alarms about the potential for Americans to have their personal information end up in the hands of the Chinese government through ByteDance, the company that owns the social video app TikTok. 

In August 2020, former President Donald Trump sought to block the app from U.S. phones by issuing an executive order that was later blocked in court and then rescinded by the Biden administration in June 2021. More recently, President Biden signed into law legislation from Sen. John Hawley (R-Mo.) that bans TikTok from being installed on federal devices. Hawley has also proposed the No TikTok on United States Devices Act that would block that app from all U.S. phones and devices, as well as prohibit anyone in the U.S. from doing business with ByteDance. 

Although the push against TikTok has mainly come from Republicans, some Democrats also appear to have concerns. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that banning TikTok is “something that should be looked at.” In the House, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) has signed on to legislation to ban the app in the U.S., saying a press statement that “revelations surrounding the depth of TikTok’s ties to the CCP highlight the urgency of protecting Americans from these risks before it’s too late.” 

Amid this pressure from lawmakers, ByteDance has increased its lobbying presence in Washington. According to OpenSecrets, ByteDance has spent more than $13.4 million on lobbying the federal government since 2019, including $5.3 million it spent last year, a new record for the company. 

So far, however, the company has not facilitated political donations to senators, representatives, and candidates for Congress, likely because of its status as a foreign company. Campaign finance law prohibits foreign nationals from making political contributions, although it allows U.S. divisions of foreign companies to form PACs that can raise money from U.S. employees. ByteDance is in the process of forming a U.S. division for TikTok in partnership with Oracle, but so far it has not formed a PAC that it could use to donate to candidates. The company’s only known political donations to date have been given to groups that supports state attorneys general candidates. 

But according to a recent disclosure filed by ByteDance, the company has found another way to donate in the U.S. that could ingratiate them with the lawmakers who may end up voting on whether or not to ban TikTok. Since mid-2022, ByteDance has donated at least $410,000 to think tanks and nonprofits that are affiliated with members of Congress. The donations were made in honor of the members of Congress, according to the disclosure. 

The recipients of the largest ByteDance donations have been the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which each received $150,000 from the Chinese company in December. The donations honor the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, according to ByteDance’s filing.