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Sen. Bernie Sanders is expanding the Democratic Party’s war on Big Tech to a new frontier, calling out Apple’s impact on the housing sector as the company tries to promote a new affordable housing initiative.
The debate between Democrats running for president has mostly focused so far on data collection, privacy, content moderation, and corporate market power. But Sanders on Monday tied critiques about tax evasion to a new, ballyhooed commitment by Apple to spend $2.5 billion — “pennies,” in Sanders’s view — on expanding affordable housing in the Bay Area.
“Apple’s announcement that it is entering the real estate lending business is an effort to distract from the fact that it has helped create California’s housing crisis,” Sanders said in a statement. “We cannot rely on corporate tax evaders to solve California’s housing crisis.”
Apple on Monday unveiled a spate of new spending that it said represented its commitment to address the shortage of homes in its vicinity. Median home prices in San Francisco and Santa Clara (where Apple is based) are well over $1 million, spurring elected officials to search for a solution. Apple pledged $1 billion in a mortgage assistance fund meant for people buying a home for the first time, along with another $1 billion in a credit line for housing for lower-income families. Politicians like California Governor Gavin Newsom praised Apple’s “unparalleled financial commitment” as evidence that the company is “serious about solving this issue.”
But unlike other Democrats, Sanders sees a “hypocrisy” at play — and one that he broadened out to all of the tech giants, some of which in recent months have promoted similar housing promises. Facebook announced $1 billion in grants and loans in November, while Microsoft — which is based just outside Seattle — has its own $500 million affordable housing pledge.
“Apple is the latest tech industry tax evader that has portrayed its entry into the housing business as an act of philanthropic altruism,” Sanders said, pointing out efforts by both Facebook and Microsoft to stash money overseas and avoid US taxes.
The statement was the latest reflection of the divergence between the Democratic Party and the tech companies and leaders that used to be firmly in their corner. And ahead of California’s earlier-than-usual primary in March, expect more Democratic presidential candidates to try and draw a connection between their theoretical, abstract objections to tech’s power and the very real impacts on the Bay Area economy.
Sanders was the only candidate to weigh in on Apple’s push as of Monday. While he has not made his criticism of Big Tech as central to his message as has his primary competitor for voters on the left, Elizabeth Warren, Sanders has made corporate tax evasion a hallmark of his political rhetoric.
Much of that messaging — whether from Sanders or Andrew Yang — has called out a different Big Tech stalwart, Amazon, for its low tax payments. (Amazon didn’t get a mention by Sanders on Monday.) Apple, which has tried to position itself as the responsible tech giant, has largely avoided the political scrutiny that has enveloped Facebook, Amazon, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
“When we defeat Donald Trump, we are going to make companies like Apple start paying their fair share, so that we can finally start making massive long-term investments that guarantee Americans affordable housing,” Sanders said.