The buildup from an office with two lobbyists 10 years ago to
one now with at least 11, and the resulting web of connections,
will help as Google seeks to end National Security Agency
intrusions into its data that the company calls an "outrage."
"Google has put itself in the position of being heard when they
need to be heard," Jeffrey Birnbaum, president of BGR Public
Relations, a Washington-based media strategy firm, said in an
interview. "Decision makers at least know what Google is thinking
and what policies it prefers."
Lessons from Microsoft
The operator of the world's most popular Internet search engine has
learned a lesson that Microsoft absorbed the hard way, when neglect
of Washington in the 1990s preceded an antitrust lawsuit.
Google adopted the tools for gaining influence: campaign cash,
attentive lobbyists and friends on both sides of the partisan
divide. Last year the Silicon Valley company hired former
Republican Representative Susan Molinari to lead its Washington
office, and Chairman Eric Schmidt was a high-profile contributor
and backer of President Barack Obama's re-election.
"Really it just mirrors what Microsoft learned," Melanie Sloan,
executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for
Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in an interview.
"Silicon Valley has had this view that Washington is irrelevant,
and what they do is the future. Eventually you realize that may be
what you think in your heart of hearts, but you're still going to
need a lobbyist."
Google passed two Washington power tests when it escaped an FCC
probe in 2012 of improper data collection with a $25,000 fine, and
the FTC dropped an antitrust probe in January. Now lobbyists for
the company are working on protecting its reputation amid
revelations about U.S. spying.
Google was "outraged" after a report the NSA intercepted data
from its networks, David Drummond, the Mountain View,
California-based company's top lawyer, said in a statement Oct. 31.
The incident, detailed by the Washington Post, "underscores the
need for urgent reform," Drummond said.
The NSA's spying is "not OK" and "perhaps illegal," Schmidt said in
an interview with the Wall Street Journal published yesterday.
Google is asking Congress for the ability to publicly release
how often technology companies turn over customer data in response
to government orders. Companies joining in the push to provide more
transparency to its customers include Facebook, Apple, Microsoft
"Assertions in the press that our compliance with these requests
gives the U.S. government unfettered access to our users' data are
simply untrue," Mr. Drummond said in a June 11 letter to Attorney
General Eric Holder and Robert Mueller, then head of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation.
Obama's administration opposes allowing the companies to reveal
data about government orders. The Justice Department in a court
filing said allowing the companies to disclose statistics on
surveillance orders would help adversaries.
The NSA director, General Keith Alexander, said the agency
hasn't infiltrated the servers of Internet companies such as Google
An independent privacy board that's reviewing court- authorized NSA
programs may recommend reducing the agency's ability to retain and
mine bulk phone records to three years from five years, the panel's
chairman, David Medine, told reporters in Washington yesterday.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which was
created by Congress, also may recommend that foreigners have more
privacy protections under a NSA program that intercepts e- mails
and other Internet communications, Medine said.
To make its case, Google can rely on its lobbyist corps along
with a host of outside advocates also on its payroll. The company
contracted with 20 firms in the three-month period that ended Sept.
30, lobbying disclosure documents show. Google subsidiary Motorola
Mobility, a smartphone maker, accounted for $1.7 million of the
2012 lobbying bill.
The workers soon can use a 55,000-square foot office less than a
mile from Capitol Hill. That's about half the distance of the
office that Google occupied in 2008, when it issued a blog posting
touting "signature Google touches like a massage chair, lava lamps,
and a game room (with, naturally, Republican and Democratic
It's a change from 2003, the year Google first registered
federal lobbyists. Then, it spent less than $100,000 and relied on
two lobbyists, both employees of the firm Public Policy Partners
LLC, according to lobbying disclosure documents.
For the 2012 elections, Google employees and groups donated $3.8
million to political campaigns, including $802,000 to Obama and
$40,000 to his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics. Google's political-giving
committees distributed $876,000 roughly equally to Republicans and
Niki Fenwick, a spokeswoman for Google, declined to comment in
"They have caught up" after a slow start in Washington, John
Feehery, a former Republican leadership aide in the House, said in
an interview. "From their reputational standpoints, they have to be
strong in condemning NSA. They can't be seen as puppets."
Google joined Red Hat, Oracle and other technology companies
contributing computer engineers and programmers to help the Obama
administration fix the U.S. health-insurance exchange website
created under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
A Google worker on leave is participating.
That may build goodwill with the administration even as Google
takes on the NSA, yet it may carry risks in Congress.
To the extent Google helps the White House, it may irritate
Republicans, Feehery said. He cited the example of General Electric
Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt heading a jobs panel for the
Obama White House.
"Republicans look at that and say, 'OK you're helping Obama -
what in the hell are you doing?'" said Feehery, who is president of
QGA Public Affairs. "It could definitely cause friction on the
-- Bloomberg News --