The transformation of Google from an ingenious search tool created by a pair of students at Stanford University 16 years ago into an internet colossus is neatly captured by a Washington Post investigation that tracks the shift from a company “once disdainful of lobbying” to “a master of Washington influence”.
Rather than simply lavishing cash on the political parties, explain Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold in a long feature, Google is embracing “less visible forms of influence”, which includes “financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects”.
The company’s emergence as “a top-tier Washington player” – in recent years ranking as high as second in corporate lobbying expenditure – equally encapsulates “the arc of change in the influence business”, they write.
Much of the advocacy is in areas with widespread support across the internet, including opposition to draconian enforcement of copyright and government access to user data, but its primary purpose is commercial.
And the company, which has quietly dropped its “Don’t be evil” strapline, is doing as it should, says Andrew McLaughlin, a former Google policy director.
“I don’t fault Google for playing that game, in which big companies use their money to buy advocates and allies,” he tells the Post. “Given where the company is today, the fiduciary duty it has to shareholders and the way Washington works, it’s a rational judgment.”
Google is not unique in its effort. TechCrunch reports: “The dollars flowing into the Capitol from tech companies are showing little signs of abatement: Google spent $3.8 million on lobbying in the first quarter, AT&T $3.7 million, Verizon $3.5 million, Comcast $3.1 million, Facebook $2.8 million, Microsoft $2.1 million, Time Warner Cable $1.9 million, Oracle $1.5 million, Apple $1.1 million, and Amazon $830,000.”
It all “reflects the increasing surface area between the political and technological worlds”.
The Wall Street Journal has more on the surge in Facebook spending in the beltway, and notes that even Snapchat now has its own DC lobbyist.
See also: Reasons to hate Silicon Valley