Learning From Microsoft's Error, Google Builds a Lobbying Engine

Jamie Brown, a former White House lobbyist, now works for Google.
Jamie Brown, a former White House lobbyist, now works for Google. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

When it comes to lobbying, Google does not intend to repeat the mistake that its rival Microsoft made a decade ago.

Microsoft was so disdainful of the federal government back then that it had almost no presence in Washington. Largely because of that neglect, the company was blindsided by a government antitrust lawsuit that cost it dearly.

Mindful of that history, Google is rapidly building a substantial presence in Washington and using that firepower against Microsoft, among others.

Google is reaching beyond Washington, as well. To publicize its policy positions and develop grass-roots support, the company introduced the Google Public Policy Blog this week.

"We're seeking to do public policy advocacy in a Googley way," said Andrew McLaughlin, Google's director of public policy and government affairs. "We want our users to be part of the effort."

In its first major policy assault on a competitor, Google's Washington office helped write an antitrust complaint to the Justice Department and other government authorities asserting that Microsoft's new Vista operating system discriminates against Google software. Last night, under a compromise with federal and state regulators, Microsoft agreed to make changes to Vista's operations.

Google credits Microsoft's missteps in the 1990s with helping it see the wisdom of setting up shop in Washington in a big way and using the many tools available in the capital, such as lobbying and lawyering, to get its way on major policy matters.

"The entire tech industry has learned from Microsoft," said Alan B. Davidson, head of Google's Washington office. "Washington and its policy debates are important. We can't ignore them."

Two years ago, Google was on the verge of making that Microsoft-like error. Davidson, then a 37-year-old former deputy director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, was the search-engine company's sole staff lobbyist in Washington. As recently as last year, Google co-founder Sergey Brin had trouble getting meetings with members of Congress.

To change that, Google went on a hiring spree and now has 12 lobbyists and lobbying-related professionals on staff here -- more than double the size of the standard corporate lobbying office -- and is continuing to add people.

Its in-house talent includes such veteran government insiders as communications director Robert Boorstin, a speechwriter and foreign policy adviser in the Clinton White House, and Jamie Brown, a White House lobbyist under President Bush.

Google has also hired some heavyweight outside help to lobby, including the Podesta Group, led by Democrat Anthony T. Podesta, and the law firm King & Spalding, led by former Republican senators Daniel R. Coats (Ind.) and Connie Mack (Fla.). To help steer through regulatory approvals in its proposed acquisition of DoubleClick, an online advertising company, Google recently retained the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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