Taxpayer-funded group to celebrate America’s birthday features lobbyist for China’s TikTok

A U.S. government-backed group organized to lead celebrations in 2026 to mark the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence counts a registered TikTok lobbyist as one of its leaders, records show.

Formed in 2016, the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission receives millions of dollars through congressional appropriations and is tasked with coordinating programming, some of which has been criticized by some Republicans as partisan and “woke,” in connection to the founding of the United States on July 4, 1776. The commission includes top federal officials such as Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, professors, and even members of Congress, many of whom also sit on an affiliated “America250” Caucus.

The commission, however, also includes a lobbyist for TikTok, the Chinese Communist Party-linked social media app facing an uncertain future after President Joe Biden in April signed a bill into law forcing TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app or soon face a ban over national security concerns. The lobbyist, Joe Crowley, is a former House Democrat now part of TikTok’s influence army at the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Denton’s working to save the embattled app.

That a TikTok lobbyist is involved with an organization aiming to celebrate America’s 250th birthday and freedom is an apparent irony. China’s authoritarian government took a 1% stake in ByteDance and a seat on its board in 2021. Crowley registered to lobby on behalf of TikTok in April 2023 and is listed on six federal disclosures filed with the Senate, including one filed on Monday, totaling $630,000 combined for advocacy on “issues related to internet technology, regulation of content of platforms.”

“We ought to defund it,” Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) said of the commission, which Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is investigating over its ties to left-wing initiatives. The America250 commission has received almost $35 million from Congress since 2019 and roughly $4 million from the private sector, according to America250’s annual report in January. Members of the Semiquincentennial Commission are unpaid, a source familiar said.

“There’s a larger question here for anybody in Washington being paid by TikTok,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser to the nonpartisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. “Will it be business as usual? Will it impact their access, their ability to serve on boards and commissions? Or are we choosing to ignore their decision to work on behalf of the CCP, which is actively trying to destabilize and undermine the United States?”

President Joe Biden talks with former Rep. Joe Crowley after speaking during an event on healthcare costs on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Crowley is now a lobbyist for TikTok and sits on the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Crowley’s role with America250 is a window into how those with ties to China often retain influence in Washington, sponsoring high-profile events, dropping money into campaign coffers, and working to shape key legislation.

According to its website, America250’s congressional caucus includes some of the most high-profile lawmakers on Capitol Hill, such as House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mike Lee (R-UT), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), and others. America250 is also partnered with the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, Education, and other agencies, as well as the Supreme Court, the group says on its website.

A spokesperson for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who is listed on America250’s website as a caucus member, said the Republican is no longer involved with the project.

“It is disgraceful that an individual lobbying on behalf of the CCP’s TikTok is on this commission,” one senior GOP congressional aide told the Washington Examiner. “Crowley should step down.”

Crowley’s willingness to lobby for TikTok has notably opened him up to apparent conflicts of interest. Last year, Politico reported that the musicFIRST coalition, a music industry association, dropped the lobbyist and his firm over their working with TikTok because some of the coalition’s members apparently had problems with the app.

Separately, TikTok and the lobbying firm Mehlman Consulting parted ways this month, the pair confirmed. Other firms still registered to lobby for TikTok include Crossroads Strategies, AND Partners, Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies, David Urban’s LGL Advisors, and K&L Gates, according to Senate lobbying disclosures.


Crowley did not reply to a request for comment.

“Commission members provide counsel and insight, sharing a passion for our country, apart from politics and contentious policy battles that dominate discourse today,” an America250 spokesperson told the Washington Examiner. “We’re thankful for their leadership and for the contributions of Americans from coast to coast working to make this celebration a huge success.”

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