Over the weekend, my column looked at the remarkable growth in Google’s lobbying operation in Washington, D.C. In just four years, Google has become the valley’s second largest company when it comes to lobbying expenditures.
Naturally, I left out a some details. While the story focused on money, there are other ways Google has been trying to extend its influence. And their adoption of these strategies shows how quickly the company has become savvy in the ways of Washington.
Let’s run through a few of these.
Google’s lobbying team includes the usual requisite of former government officials from agencies that have been having an impact on the company’s business. The lobbying team includes former employees from the Justice Department, Treasury, the FCC, and Congressional staffs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
One of the interesting things you can see from that data at CPR’s OpenSecrets.org is the growing range of issues that Google is lobbying on. In 2009, the top issues included advertising, energy, trade, telecom and anti-trust. Of those, only trade was listed among Google’s issues in 2005. And the list of agencies and branches of government that Google lobbies has grown extensively.
Of course, it’s no surprise that anti-trust is near the top of the list of issues. Just in the last couple of years, Google faced this anti-trust inquiries with its acquisition of DoubleClick, saw its search deal with Yahoo scuttled, and now faces a review of its plans to buy AdMob.
Google has also been savvy about hiring former government officials in non-lobbying positions. For instance, in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was concerned about some of the ways Google was accounting for various costs related to traffic acquisition, and also had questions about whether the company was being transparent enough on some issues such as whether or not it was disclosing enough information about letting a large group of contractors go. These questions were all resolved without the SEC taking any formal actions. The Google official reponding to those questions? It was Mark Fuchs, Google’s vice president of finance and chief accountant, who used to work at the SEC.
Going in the other direction, several Google employees have gone to work in the Obama administration:
- Andrew McLauglin, former Google policy chief, serves as Obama’s deputy chief technology officer.
- Katie Stanton, former principal of Google’s New Business Development team, is now Obama’s director of citizen participation.
- Sonal Shah, a Google lobbyist and head of global development issues at Google.org, served as an adivsor on the Obama transition team. She previously worked in the Treasury Department.
- Sumit Agarwal, Google’s head of mobile product management, will become deputy assistant secretary of defense for outreach and social media in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense ,it was announced last week.
- CEO Eric Schmidt is a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
In addition, Schmidt has become chair of the New America Foundation, a non-partisan Wahshington think tank. That’s a lot of involvement in D.C. for a guy who told the Washington Post last fall he doesn’t care much for the scene:
As for Google’s relationship with Washington’s power structure, Schmidt said the tech industry is still not as strong as others in its lobbying representation on Capitol Hill, but that that’s fine with him. Google, and the tech industry, does better for itself when it focuses on ideas and innovation — and not politics, he said.
“The part of politics in Washington that’s ‘who you know’ and all that kind of stuff, it’s just not very interesting,” he said.
The company has also established a summer policy fellowship where it funds about a dozen or more undergraduate and graduate students to work with various policy organizations. Those include some that have found themselves on the opposite side of issues from Google. For instance, last summer, Google paid for one Wisconsin student to work at the American Library Association, an organization that has been opposing the company’s plans to scan books.
As I noted in the column, none of this is illegal, or unusual. What bears watching is how Google uses this growing influence. There are a lot of issues where I agree with them, and am glad to have them fighting. But there are others where I disagree (i.e., book search)
But when it comes to Washington msucle, you certainly can’t call them the underdog anymore.