In recent years, the term “lobbying” has gradually entered the public eye. Although it may be unfamiliar to some in China, domestic enterprises that “go global” often overlook this blind spot in their field of vision. However, lobbying has long been a customary practice in Europe and the United States and is even hailed as the “invisible hand” that manipulates and influences the political landscape there.
With the transformation and upgrading of industries, the “game of money and power” has extended to include industries such as the internet, high-tech, and semiconductors. Internet companies such as Amazon, Oracle, Microsoft, and Google have become regulars in lobbying, while semiconductor companies like Qualcomm, Intel, Broadcom, and Texas Instruments are among the top spenders on lobbying.
According to statistics from “DiskMFR Analyst”, based on the top 10 global semiconductor suppliers as counted by Gartner in 2022, ten companies including Samsung Electronics, Intel, SK Hynix, Qualcomm, Micron Technology, Broadcom, AMD, Texas Instruments, MediaTek, and Apple contributed $184 million in lobbying expenses in the US from 2018 to 2022.
Through these massive expenditures, semiconductor industry leaders quietly permeate, manipulate, leverage, and influence the development of the entire industry. Perhaps, behind the major events in the industry that you think you understand, there are hidden exchanges of interests. Today, “DiskMFR Analyst” will talk about this “invisible hand”.
① The ‘Invisible Hand’ that Manipulates and Influences the Politics of Europe and America
The term “lobbying” originally referred to a lobby or hall. This ancient political activity can be traced back to 12th century England and was transferred to the United States in the 18th century, gradually becoming a tradition in the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries, becoming an important link for politicians and capitalists to exchange benefits.
In China and South Korea, lobbying is seen as a form of corruption, almost equivalent to “collusion between officials and businessmen.” However, Western public opinion generally believes that political lobbying is almost a “legalized bribery,” and lobbying groups are even hailed as the “fourth power center” in Washington. The United States and the European Union have even established lobbying systems and special laws for this purpose.
Taking the United States, where lobbying intensity is the highest, as an example, on the stage defined by law, a “revolving door” has formed between the U.S. Congress and lobbying groups.
Although in-service legislators avoid talking about political lobbying, lobbying groups are precisely the most popular destination for legislators and their assistants after leaving office, with positions typically named “legislative coordinators” and “government relations directors.” Statistics show that since 1998, 43% of departing members of Congress have entered the “lobbying industry” as lobbyists after a one-year statutory cooling-off period, and they may even return to government or Congress work years later.
Interestingly, the U.S. lobbying industry has even “established” a K Street headquarters between the White House and Capitol Hill, where countless lobbying activities take place every day, influencing changes in global political and diplomatic affairs. Companies such as Qualcomm, Intel, Broadcom, Texas Instruments, and Microsoft have set up camp here, and even South Korea’s LG Group announced last year that it will establish a lobbying office in Washington, D.C. in 2023.
② Semiconductor Companies Engage in Heavy Lobbying Efforts
As an important part of the political ecology in Europe and America, lobbying quietly influences the entire semiconductor industry, including policy legislation, corporate conflicts, mergers and acquisitions, investment and construction, and many other aspects.
Based on Gartner’s list of the top 10 global semiconductor suppliers in 2022, “DiskMFR Analyst” has compiled the lobbying expenditures of the top 10 semiconductor companies in the United States over the past five years.
For this “game of money and power,” just in lobbying in the United States, ten companies including Samsung Electronics, Intel, SK Hynix, Qualcomm, Micron Technology, Broadcom, AMD, Texas Instruments, MediaTek, and Apple have contributed a lobbying expenditure of 184 million US dollars in the past five years.
As an important part of the political ecology in Europe and the United States, lobbying silently affects the entire semiconductor industry, including policy legislation, corporate competition, mergers and acquisitions, investment and construction, and many other aspects.
Based on Gartner’s list of the top 10 global semiconductor suppliers in 2022, ChipAnalyst has compiled the lobbying expenses of the top 10 semiconductor leaders in the United States over the past five years.
For this “game of money and power,” just on lobbying in the United States, 10 companies including Samsung Electronics, Intel, SK Hynix, Qualcomm, Micron Technology, Broadcom, AMD, Texas Instruments, MediaTek, and Apple contributed $184 million in lobbying expenses over the past five years, except for Texas Instruments and MediaTek, the lobbying expenses of the remaining 8 companies exceeded $1 million. Among them, Qualcomm ranked first with $42.21 million, followed by Apple with $36.6 million, and Intel ranked third with $23.875 million.
In 2022, in order to obtain factory construction subsidies under the US chip law, the top five semiconductor leaders all hired lobbyists to push for the legislation of the US chip law. As a result, their lobbying expenses collectively increased by one level, all exceeding $4 million.
Although for now, Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix, and TSMC, who spent heavily on lobbying, are not very satisfied with the results of this subsidy. Apart from the “fence” clause and sharing the money, the US Department of Commerce also requires semiconductor companies to submit data on production capacity utilization, expected yield, and price changes. But it can be foreseen that under the huge sunk cost, they will have to lobby again to try to negotiate the subsidy details with the United States, so as not to come away empty-handed.
③ Uncovering the Shadows and Beneficiaries of the Semiconductor Industry
The lobbying objectives of semiconductor companies are typically geared towards serving their own interests, whether it is for their own convenience or to undermine their competitors. Today, we will examine three cases to shed light on the shadows and beneficiaries behind these industries and how they use lobbying as an “invisible hand” to achieve their goals, ultimately impacting the entire industry’s development.
Case 1: TSMC builds a factory in Arizona, USA.
In May 2020, TSMC announced its plan to invest $12 billion in building a factory in Arizona, USA. In order to secure local subsidy support, they spent $1.98 million on political lobbying, marking TSMC’s first lobbying expenditure since 1998.
Since then, TSMC’s lobbying expenses in the United States have been increasing year by year. In the three years from 2020 to 2022, they spent a total of $7.09 million on lobbying.
Case 2, Broadcom’s Acquisition of Qualcomm
On November 6, 2017, Broadcom announced its plan to acquire Qualcomm for $70 per share, with a total transaction value of approximately $130 billion (this price was subsequently adjusted multiple times, with the final offer being $121 billion).
It was from this quarter that Broadcom started to spend $160,000 on lobbying to push forward the acquisition process. Although the amount may seem small, it marked Broadcom’s entry into the “game of money and power” in the United States, where they had not previously engaged in lobbying.
Initially, Qualcomm rejected Broadcom’s acquisition offer, but by the end of February 2018, they accepted it, although the two sides had not yet reached an agreement. On March 5, 2018, the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) suddenly intervened and ordered Qualcomm to postpone its upcoming shareholder meeting, citing the company’s important role in developing 5G technology in the U.S.
On March 12, 2018, the Trump administration issued a presidential order citing national security concerns and rejected Broadcom’s bid to acquire Qualcomm. Broadcom responded by stating that they were evaluating the presidential order and that they did not believe their acquisition of Qualcomm posed any national security risks. In an effort to circumvent CFIUS scrutiny, Broadcom had already relocated its headquarters to the U.S.
On March 14, 2018, Broadcom announced that they had withdrawn and terminated their tender offer to acquire Qualcomm and also withdrew their nominations for independent directors at Qualcomm’s 2018 shareholder meeting.
During this quarter, Broadcom’s lobbying expenses further increased to $220,000, and they continued to increase each quarter, with expenses totaling $1.3 million in 2018. Although the acquisition ultimately did not go through, Broadcom successfully integrated into the U.S. political ecosystem, learned to skillfully use lobbying tactics, and has maintained high lobbying expenses ever since.
Case 3: Micron’s Shift in Lobbying Strategy
Micron, which was recently subjected to a cybersecurity review by the Cyberspace Administration of China, is a master at using lobbying to influence policy. While we won’t delve into the debates and opinions on this matter online, Micron’s shift in lobbying strategy is a classic example of how lobbying can influence policy and legislation.
Between 2018 and 2022, Micron spent a whopping $10.53 million on lobbying in the US. During this period, Micron’s lobbying strategy underwent a transformation, with a shift from lobbying for tax breaks, budget appropriations, and technology policies to lobbying for trade sanctions, Section 301 investigations, and intellectual property protection.
Using Micron’s 2022 lobbying report disclosed on the US House of Representatives official website as an example, Micron Technology submitted a total of 95 lobbying issues covering tax credits, budget appropriations, policy legislation, export controls, and other topics according to statistics by DiskMFR Analyst.
Micron conducts lobbying activities each quarter focusing on key issues such as “export controls, trade agreements, Section 301 investigations, and tariff implementations,” “manufacturing and production issues related to monitoring and memory storage industries,” and “US chip bills.” The lobbying targets include the US House of Representatives, Senate, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, National Economic Council, Department of Treasury, State Department, National Security Council, and other departments.
Notably, Micron’s lobbyists include Bo Machayo, former regional director of Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (now Micron’s federal government and public affairs director), and Michael Long, former senior advisor to Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House.
With such consistent investment, Micron has also reaped rewards. In September 2022, Mark Warner and Marco Rubio wrote to Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, requesting public analysis and review of a certain competitor. The Majority Leader of the Senate, Charles Schumer, and Senator John Cornyn also signed the letter.
On October 4, 2022, Micron announced a $100 billion investment to build a giant wafer factory, which was not located in its headquarters in Idaho or Texas, where it had submitted a property tax reduction application in August. Instead, it was located in New York, Schumer’s hometown. This was also the first project to land in New York after the US chip bill was enacted.
Words in the end
The three industrial transfers of semiconductors, from the United States to Japan, then to South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and finally to mainland China, have been accompanied by geopolitical games. Therefore, with the intensification of trade frictions in recent years, industry insiders have increased their research on industry policies and relevant national policies and regulations. However, “lobbying,” as a blind spot in the perspective of industry research, is often overlooked.
But whether it is the example of the US chip bill, TSMC’s plant construction in Arizona, Broadcom’s acquisition of Qualcomm, or Micron’s lobbying strategy shift, they all confirm one thing – the lobbying political ecology in Europe and America has an unimaginable and far-reaching impact on the semiconductor industry.
Therefore, in order for China’s semiconductor companies to “go global” and avoid the negative impact of geopolitical games, in addition to building their own product capabilities, they also need to focus on these blind spots and respond to the attacks of competitors’ hidden in the shadows.
- “The Intractable Malady of Political Lobbying in the United States”, People’s Daily
- “What About ‘Lobbying’ Outside the Country?”, Author: Yifei, Big Economy and Trade, 2008
- “Exclusive Interview with K Street Lobbying Guru Reveals Secret Behind ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Supporters in US Elections”, Phoenix International
- “Money Never Sleeps: How Lobbying Influences US Politics”, Everbright Securities
- “Lobbying Groups on K Street: How Democracy is Sold in America”, Mohammad Minshawi
- OpenSecrets public statistical data.