Sen. Rand Paul’s heated opposition to a TikTok ban startled Capitol Hill last week, but you could look at it as a straightforward case of following the money, according to insiders – in this case, the money of a major GOP donor who has $33 billion on the line.
The gentleman from Kentucky – who has made his career partly as a China hawk – surprised colleagues on the Senate floor last week when he blocked Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley’s hopes for fast-tracked legislation to ban TikTok.
“Speech is protected whether you like it or not,” Rand said, jumping on Hawley’s proposal as soon as he stopped speaking. “Have faith that our desire for freedom is strong enough to survive a few dance videos.”
Sources claim credit for Paul’s impassioned speech should go to GOP mega donor Jeffrey Yass.
The billionaire CEO of Susquehanna Financial Group has given Paul more than $10 million since 2020, according to election filings.
His fund also owns a 15% stake in TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, that’s worth an estimated $33 billion.
While Susquehanna investors generally benefit from the ByteDance stake, Yass is the majority owner, according to ProPublica, which last summer published a major piece on how Yass has managed to avoid $1 billion in taxes with the help of creative trading strategies.
“My opposition to censorship and my unwavering support for the First Amendment are consistent, deeply held libertarian beliefs,” Sen. Paul told The Post in a statement. “Anyone who asserts that my positions are mercantile hasn’t been paying attention.”
A spokesperson for Yass declined to comment. A source close to Yass notes he has been a long standing supporter of libertarian causes — and that those commitments predate any concerns about banning TikTok.
Nevertheless, Paul’s opposition to Hawley’s TikTok ban generated headlines suggesting it might be the first time Paul and Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — another vocal supporter of TikTok — actually agreed on anything.
Paul isn’t the only conservative in Washington who appears to have Yass’s talking points.
Last month, David McIntosh, president of the right-leaning Club for Growth, penned an op-ed, “Banning TikTok sounds tempting. Here’s why it’s all wrong,” in which he argued a ban was being backed by Big Tech and would restrict freedom.
Club for Growth has received nearly $3 million from Yass in the last five years alone, according to election filings.
Also last month, Jennifer Huddleston, a policy research fellow at the Cato Institute – where Yass has been on the executive advisory council since 2001 — wrote in an op-ed for USA Today, “Should the US ban TikTok? Here’s why blocking it isn’t a good idea,” in which, like Sen. Paul, she argues that a ban “could raise significant questions about the First Amendment rights of TikTok’s American users.”
Elsewhere, John Tamny, vice president at FreedomWorks – which got a $15,000 donation from Yass and, with his help, hosted an event on the importance of economic freedom – argued that a TikTok ban would be “dangerous.”
“Why do Americans always have to lose their freedom anytime politicians detect what they deem a threat?” Tamny writes in op-ed for Real Clear Markets entitled, “Rep. Mike Gallagher’s Attacks On TikTok More Dangerous Than TikTok.”
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