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Meta-née-Facebook has long lived by the motto "When you can't beat 'em, buy 'em" (see: Instagram in 2012).

But if you're worried Washington won't let you buy 'em, buy influence. On Monday, CNBC reported that Meta made a $34 million contribution to a leading anti-antitrust advocacy group, American Edge Project, to help keep its shopping lanes open.

On the Edge

Let's flashback to 2021, the time frame mostly covered by American Edge Project's recently disclosed tax documents that revealed the mega contribution by an anonymous donor that a source now tells CNBC is in fact Facebook. Zuck's empire was mired in a series of controversies at the time (remember the Facebook Files?) just as the social media giant was fending off a bipartisan probe into its outsized power. All while the company was prepping a massive pivot (rebranding) to the metaverse. Old habits die hard, so in typical Zuck fashion, that meant lots and lots of M&A.

The soon-to-be-called Meta went on a prolonged shopping spree, snapping up as many metaverse and virtual reality development studios as it could, like Big Box VR, Beat Games, Ready at Dawn, and plenty of others. "Facebook is going to probably have a near-monopoly in VR software before it even matters," Alex Heath, editor at tech publication The Verge, tweeted at the time. Ah, the M word. Meanwhile, Meta's dollars were hard at work on keeping trustbusters at bay:

  • Between 2020 and 2021, American Edge launched a series of TV and digital ads warning that the wave of antitrust proposals circulating through Congress could hurt American "small businesses" taking on foreign competition. Those bills went largely unpassed, and one very large business founded by a Harvard College dropout continued to grow like a virtual beanstalk.
  • Chief among those squashed bills was legislation aimed at forcing dominant platforms to bear the burden of proof in merger cases, and a proposal to ban self-preferencing on major platforms (like, say, Amazon surfacing their own first-party products to the top of search queries).

"The threats to America's technological edge have a profound impact on our national security and economic well-being and we're leading the charge to make sure everyone is aware," American Edge CEO Doug Kelly told CNBC in a statement.

In Zuck We (Anti)Trust: Of course, Zuckerberg's expensive metaverse gambit hasn't exactly played out, and the insurgent TikTok is eating into the company's core platforms. Now, after waves of layoffs totaling over 20,000 workers, employee sentiment is in the tank. In a recent company town hall, one employee even asked Zuckerberg why the rank-and-file should still have faith in his leadership, The Washington Post reported Monday. You can buy companies. You can buy influence. But money can't buy you love from employees.