“The White House announcement is a huge victory for Google on privacy,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
The “victory” didn’t happen by accident. Google has become a major force in Washington.
Once disdainful of the lobbying tactics of other companies, Google’s Beltway operations have become nearly indistinguishable from the most powerful corporations that line K Street. Last year, it doubled the amount it spent on lobbying to $10 million and doubled the size of its employee political donation fund to $836,000.
Google capped the reinvention of its Washington operations Thursday by announcing that former congresswoman Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) will head its D.C. staff. Molinari has made public appearances on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. After she left Congress in 1997, Molinari became a registered lobbyist and represented the Association of American Railroads, mortgage giant Freddie Mac and Verizon Communications, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
“She will help lawmakers better understand our company, how it works and what its impact is,” said a Google official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Google officials declined comment publicly on the company’s lobbying operations.
Google has hired several Republican political veterans over the past year, trying to defuse criticism by lawmakers that the firm is too cozy with the Obama administration. Chairman Eric Schmidt is a White House economic adviser, and Google’s former head of global public policy, Andrew McLaughlin, was Obama’s deputy chief technology officer.
“Like a lot of tech firms, Google came in with a thought leadership think-tank approach,” said Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council. “But they are now realizing that you have to create an environment for success, and political communication is an important part of that.”
The amount Google spends on lobbying is a fraction of firms such as General Motors, Verizon and Boeing. But it’s a major shift for a company that has criticized politics as usual and the give-and-take relationships between lawmakers and companies.