Lots of people play the lobbying game in Washington. Now Google joins the fray.
Kate Phillips writes in today’s New York Times:
For a company that takes pride in being the quintessential outsider, Google is moving quickly into the ultimate insider’s game: lobbying.
Started less than a decade ago in a Stanford dorm room, Google has evolved into a multibillion-dollar business, its search engine ubiquitous on the Internet. Its sprawling growth, fueled by a public stock offering in August 2004 that created a market behemoth, has now thrust it into the glare of Washington.
As lawmakers and regulators begin eyeing its ventures in China and other countries and as its Web surfers worry about the privacy of their online searches, Google is making adjustments that do not fit neatly with its maverick image.
It has begun ramping up its lobbying and legislative operations after largely ignoring Washington for years, in a scramble to match bases long established here by competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft, as well as the deeply entrenched telecommunication companies.
Google has hired politically connected lobbying firms and consultants with ties to Republican leaders like the party chairman, Ken Mehlman; Speaker J. Dennis Hastert; and Senator John McCain; and advisers say the company may set up a fund-raising arm for political donations to candidates. And in a town where Republicans hold the levers of power, Google has begun stockpiling pieces of the party’s machine.
To some, Google is a novice arriving late to the table. To others, the company’s embedding on K Street, which serves as home to many of Washington’s top lobbyists, represents a new and not necessarily welcome sign of sophistication.
"It’s sad," said Esther Dyson, editor of the technology newsletter Release 1.0 and former chairwoman of Icann, a nonprofit group that plays a role in Internet administration. "The kids are growing up. They’ve lost youth and innocence. Now they have to start being grown-ups and playing at least to some extent by grown-up rules."
In doing so, Google provides another example of how Internet companies, no matter how unconventional their roots or nonconformist their corporate cultures, increasingly find themselves wrestling with the same forces in Washington that more traditional industries have long faced. Google’s executives consider the moves necessary as they achieve a prominence that allows them to elbow their own interests onto the political stage.
"We’ve staked out an agenda that really is about promoting the open Internet as a revolutionary platform for communication," said Alan Davidson, brought on board less than a year ago as the company’s policy counsel to set up offices in the Penn Quarter area of Washington. "It’s been the growth of Google as a company and as a presence in the industry that has prompted our engagement in Washington."