Let me give you a counter example. Now there are startups in Washington. And these startups have the interesting property that they’re founded by people who were policymakers, let’s say in telecommunications. They’re very clever people, and they’ve figured out a way in regulation to discriminate, to find a new satellite spectrum or a new frequency or whatever. They immediately hired a whole bunch of lobbyists. They raised some money to do that. And they’re trying to innovate through the regulation. So that’s what passes for innovation in Washington. And again, God bless them. But they have a political strategy to get their particular legislation and niche approved. That’s unheard of here.
How has lobbying evolved for you, then?
Executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt discusses the one thing he believes Washington needs to know about Silicon Valley.
The conclusion that we came to [as far back as when I was at Sun Microsystems] is that there are two kinds of lobbying. And this, I think, is grossly unfair but kind of true. There’s the kind of lobbying where you pay an ex-senator to get the current senator to write a sentence into a bill, and there’s no confusion as to what this is about. You are representing your corporate interest. It’s specific to your company. In Washington, for example, you can pay an ex-person $50,000 to arrange a meeting to get that process, to get those five sentences written in this bill, and so forth and so on.
The punch line is, we concluded that we didn’t want to do that as industry, and certainly not at Sun. We wanted to lobby based on ideas. And as far as I know, every company that I’ve worked with—and I was part of the Business Software Alliance and all these other groups—we all sort of agree with this. There’s a line that we’re not willing to cross. So what we do from a leadership perspective, at least in terms of political leadership, is we talk about ideas. And inevitably what happens is everyone says ‘yes,’ yet inevitably on the Hill you have an older gentleman or lady.
The staffers—and the staffers are young—the staffers get it. They’re 25, 30 years old and they all get it. So that’s what we depend on. And of course we’ve hired ex-staffers as well. They all know each other. So that’s how it really works. And I believe what we’re doing is extremely defensible if it’s around ideas. I would have a lot of trouble if we in our industry started following the other kind of lobbying.
What kind of ideas?
A classic example is H-1B visas. Now, the following arguments are so obvious, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone would believe that they’re false. These industries are full of very smart people. There are very smart people who don’t live in America. They come to America, we educate them at the best universities, they are smarter than I am, and then we kick them out. If they stayed in the country, let’s just review: They would create jobs, pay taxes, have high incomes, pay more taxes than the average American, and generally increase the GDP of the country. I hope my argument is clear, and if it isn’t I’ll start screaming about it. It’s the stupidest policy the government has with respect to high tech. So you have this conversation and people say “yes,” and you say, ”This is the single thing that you can do that will lead to innovation occurring in our country, and the future economic wealth of our country.” And then they don’t act.