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Biden and Trump want to rein in Big Tech. Their campaigns can't avoid using it.

Tech giants are often a target for derision in Washington. Presidential campaigns are nonetheless sending a lot of money their way.

Federal Election Commission records now offer a complete accounting of how the campaigns spent money in 2023. The files show millions of dollars being funneled to Silicon Valley to pay for digital advertising — one of the most effective ways to reach voters.

What the filings also make it clear is how the other services of the tech giants are also as inescapable for campaign operators as they are for Americans going about their day-to-day lives.

Take the two likely nominees: President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

This photo combo of images shows, clockwise, from upper left: President Donald Trump speaking during a news conference at the White House on July 22, 2020, in Washington, the Twitter app, Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaking during a campaign event on July 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Del., and the Facebook app. With just 100 days to go until Election Day, President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden aren't just attacking one another in online ads. Their ads are also targeting tech companies like Facebook and Twitter. (AP Photo)
Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the logos of Facebook and Twitter. (AP Photos)

Trump has sporadically brought up antitrust concerns over the years and has gone so far as to launch his own social media platform, Truth Social, to get around what he calls "biased Big Tech." But that doesn't mean he's not advertising on Facebook (META) this campaign season or using Amazon (AMZN) to stock his campaign's offices.

President Biden similarly sits atop an administration engaged in legal battles against Amazon, Google (GOOG), and Meta — with a suit against Apple (AAPL) likely not far behind. But his presidential campaign still regularly patronizes those same companies.

Biden has launched antitrust efforts by saying consolidation in tech and elsewhere creates "fewer options for workers and consumers alike." It's a conundrum apparently facing his campaign as well.

Presidential candidates have also been reliant on Big Tech while simultaneously criticizing the companies in years past. The 2020 campaign notably featured candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren advertising a plan to break up these companies — on their own platforms.

The expensive world of digital advertising

Collectively, the Biden and Trump campaigns spent at least $30 million on advertising efforts in 2023. Some of that money headed to linear television, but much clearly ended up on the books in Menlo Park, Calif., where Facebook is based, and Mountain View, Calif., the location of "the GooglePlex."

Plenty of other corners of the business world — from airlines to restaurants to special-event organizers — come up repeatedly in the filings, but advertising represents the lion's share of the nearly $80 million in total campaign spending from Biden and Trump last year, according to FEC records.

Donald Trump account on Facebook displayed on a phone screen and Facebook logo displayed on a screen in the background are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on January 26, 2023. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Donald Trump's social media is seen on a phone screen with the Facebook logo in the background. (Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The question of exactly how much of those advertising budgets ends up in Big Tech's hands is somewhat harder to answer, with the money flowing through third parties.

The Trump campaign put at least $11.5 million in 2023 toward an array of outside firms for expenses categorized as as "online advertising" or "placed media." Some have tried to track that money, with Bully Pulpit Interactive telling Axios last year it had traced hundreds of thousands to Facebook and Google ads within just the first few months of 2023.

Updated data wasn't immediately available, but the total spending almost surely grew over the course of the entire calendar year.

The Biden campaign has likewise sent millions to Democratic-aligned firms. A name that showed up frequently is Gambit Strategies. The firm is run by two former Biden aides and is focused on digital advertising touting "unrivaled experience persuading and mobilizing voters online." The records show it collected over $8 million from the Biden campaign in 2023.

Representatives for the Biden and Trump campaigns declined to offer Yahoo Finance a more detailed analysis of their spending habits beyond what has been publicly reported.

The spending towards Big Tech comes even after years of criticism from the two men atop these campaigns. In 2023, Trump called Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a "weirdo" as he recounted their political differences. Biden often criticized Facebook and other platforms over how they handled COVID-19 misinformation, once saying the platforms were "killing people."

Office supplies and Ubers

The filings show that below those top-line advertising numbers, campaigns spent liberally for a range of other technology services.

Both campaigns patronized Amazon, but for different reasons. The Biden campaign sent almost $60,000 to Amazon Web Services in 2023 to host its website. Trump's campaign spent as well, but in a different wing of CEO Andy Jassy's company, racking up over $30,000 in purchases of office supplies.

Biden and Trump have had their run-ins with Amazon over the years.

The Federal Trade Commission under Biden — along with 17 states — has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the company charging the tech giant with using its "monopoly power" to inflate prices. Biden also engaged in a Twitter fight in 2022 with Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and former CEO, over inflation and corporate taxes.

Trump has also long feuded with Amazon and occasionally threatened antitrust action against the company when he was in office. "People think it is a very antitrust situation," Trump said in 2018 of Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

Other tech spending is perhaps more illuminating about the distinct cultures of the two campaigns.

Biden's team appears to have spent a lot on Apple products. Over $170,000 was spent in 2023 at an Apple authorized service provider named "Mac Business Solutions."

iPhone and MacBook purchases appear to be less numerous in Trump's filings, but the campaign nonetheless spent almost $9,000 directly with the company on purchases of "office equipment."

When campaign staffers need a ride, Trump's team proved much more likely to grab an Uber (UBER), with the ride-sharing company being expensed 10 times more often than Lyft (LYFT). Uber Eats also showed up frequently in the Trump filings.

Team Biden is much more mixed on this issue. Democratic aides split their fares between the two companies but slightly favored Lyft.

Neither campaign seemingly had much in the way of direct contact with X, formerly known as Twitter. But Trump's operation paid $168 to Elon Musk's company, evidently for two premium subscriptions.

Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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