Arizona lawmaker: Big Tech “hired almost every lobbyist” to kill app store bill

Arizona lawmaker: Big Tech “hired almost every lobbyist” to kill app store bill
Siriporn Kaenseeya / EyeEm / Getty

An Arizona bill to expand payment options in Apple’s and Google’s app stores has failed in the state Senate, the law’s sponsor has told the Verge. The legislation narrowly passed the Arizona House last month.

Rep. Regina Cobb, a Republican, told the Verge that she thought she had the votes to pass the legislation in the Senate. But then, according to Cobb, Apple and Google “hired almost every lobbyist in town” to kill the legislation.

“We thought we had the votes before we went to the committee,” Cobb told the Verge. “And then we heard that the votes weren’t there and they weren’t going to take the time to put it up.”

J.D. Mesnard, a Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, had scheduled Cobb’s bill for a hearing. However, he pulled the legislation at the last minute amid a lobbying blitz from major technology companies.

“I polled the committee members, and there just wasn’t enough support for it,” Mesnard told the American Prospect. “A number of members were conflicted on it; others were just opposed. There was some support for it, but it definitely was coming up short.”

The bill targeted Apple and Google without naming them

The legislative battle in Arizona is one front in a global fight over Apple’s and Google’s control over their mobile platforms. Companies like Epic Games and Spotify have complained that Apple not only takes a 30 percent cut of all app store revenue, but also bans app makers from using alternative payment platforms within iOS apps to avoid that 30 percent cut.

The Arizona bill would have required owners of major general-purpose app platforms—which includes Apple’s and Google’s mobile platforms but excludes special-purpose devices like gaming consoles or music players—to allow the use of third-party payment services on their platforms. It also would have prohibited app stores from retaliating against app makers for trying to route around their payment services.

Apple’s critics have introduced similar legislation in other states, but none of them has gotten as far as the Arizona bill. Epic has also made formal complaints to competition regulators in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

The scrambled politics of regulating Big Tech

Ordinarily, you’d expect Democrats to favor strict regulation of big business and Republicans to favor a more laissez-faire approach. But the Arizona legislative battle scrambled conventional partisan alignments. The bill passed the House in a razor-thin 31-29 vote. Of the 31 “aye” votes, 27 came from Republicans. Democrats accounted for 25 of the 29 “nay” votes.

This may reflect culture-war politics seeping into every aspect of policymaking. Republicans have increasingly found themselves at odds with technology giants over content moderation issues, and that may have made them more receptive to calls to regulate them—even on topics like payment services that have no direct connection to politics. Conversely, Democrats have become accustomed to defending tech giants against Republican attacks, which may have made Democratic legislators in Arizona more receptive to the arguments of Google and Apple lobbyists.