As it continues its exponential expansion to cellphones, mobile advertising, television sets and book publishing internet giant Google has been simultaneously expanding its presence in the U.S. political scene, adding lobbyists, DC-based employees, and ramping up its campaign donations.
Writing for Politico on Friday, Kim Hart provides some details on how the company is becoming much more politicized than ever before:
Google boss Eric Schmidt is one of the nation’s most politically active business leaders — a man who uses the cachet of the company he leads, as well as his own charisma, to build strategic alliances in the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill.
Schmidt, 55, grew up in Washington and returns frequently to visit his mother, who still lives in Northern Virginia. Those trips often double as chances to meet with President Barack Obama, chat with staffers at the Federal Communications Commission and meet with top lawmakers.
Schmidt’s newly formed friendships in town have helped transform Google from a D.C. outsider into an Obama administration darling with growing clout in policy circles.
After donating just $250 in the year 2000, Google’s employees have been handing out cash hand over fist, almost exclusively to Democrats. In the 2008 election cycle, Schmidt campaigned actively for candidate Barack Obama from very early in primaries. Schmidt and his Google colleagues donated over $800,000 to Obama’s war chest, making the company one of his top-five contributors.
The Democratic giving bias at Google has continued in the 2010 cycle. This year according to data gathered from the website OpenSecrets.org, Google employees have donated over $270,000 to Democrats and liberal campaign groups. They’ve given just $45,000 to Republicans and conservative groups.
This dedication to helping Democrats and President Obama in particular has given Google employees and contractors extraordinarily good insider connections, cause for concern that the company, like fellow Democratic-booster General Electric, is using public policy to boost its bottom line.
The fear of Google has gotten so extreme that many political insiders were afraid to go on the record with Politico’s Hart for the piece linked above, an extraordinary amount of influence.
Notable also is that New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer has made it an explicit point to criticize Google’s tech rivals Apple (for faulty iPhone 4 antenna design) and Facebook (for privacy concerns) but remained silent about a major Google privacy scandal that’s still ongoing. Governments and computer users in over 30 countries are up in arms about cars hired by Google to collect street mapping data also collecting private data transmitted on private, unencrypted wireless networks. This practice went on for over 3 years yet Schumer, the former head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has said nothing about it since it came to light.
The political power of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, meanwhile, has increased markedly since Obama became president. Hart reports:
Schmidt’s political interests date back to his days as an executive of Sun Microsystems and Novell in the 1990s. But it was Schmidt’s vigorous support of Obama’s presidential run that started to get attention.
During the 2008 campaign, Schmidt served as an informal economic adviser to Obama and actively stumped for the candidate, who was the first to visit Google’s headquarters, in 2007. After the election, Schmidt and other Google executives paid $25,000 each to help pay for a lavish, star-studded inaugural celebration.
Schmidt was then appointed to Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, as was Microsoft Chief Strategy Officer Craig Mundie, and became an advocate of the $787 billion stimulus package.
Four Google employees went to work in the administration. Andrew McLaughlin, former head of Google’s global public policy, is now White House deputy chief technology officer for Internet policy — an issue in which Google has a significant stake. McLaughlin came under fire for continuing to converse with former colleagues about policy issues such as Net neutrality.
Well aware of its long record of favoring Democrats over Republicans and liberals over conservatives (something documented as early as 2005 by USA Today), Google insists that Schmidt and his employees are acting purely in their private capacities with their political activities.
That’s almost certainly true when speaking of Google employees—people who have no say in the highest-level operations of the company—but strains the bounds of credulity to imagine that Schmidt and other top executives to hermetically seal the knowledge acquired from work as top Obama advisers and strategists away from their work at the top of the corporate food chain.
The personal/business separation argument falls apart also when you look at Google’s actions rather than its words, especially on the topic of so-called “network neutrality,” a subject very dear to Google. It’s currently spending tens of millions of dollars trying to make it a crime for cable and cellphone companies to charge lower prices to people who use less data and higher prices to people who use more.
From a business standpoint, this makes sense for Google since it is the owner of YouTube, the number-one video sharing site on the web. Google doesn’t want to pay more to the likes of Comcast or Verizon (network providers) in order to keep YouTube providing speedy video downloads so it is resorting to government force to ensure that never happens. Should Google get its way, the vast majority of people who aren’t downloading HD-quality video 24/7 will continue subsidize the downloading habits of the very small number of people who do. That’s unfair.
It’s also completely against the free market which is why Republicans (some of whom were initially snookered into supporting network neutrality) have sided with the network providers. Democrats, however, have generally sided with Google and other web content providing companies like Microsoft and Yahoo based on false arguments about network neutrality being necessary to preserve a “democratic internet.” It should come as no surprise then that Google’s donations to Republicans are minuscule in comparison to the shovelfuls of cash it sends to Democrats.
One Democrat in particular, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, is especially tight with Google Inc. He’s met with Schmidt numerous times and is a huge backer of network neutrality, vowing to impose it on America despite a court ruling that the FCC has no authority to do so.
Genachowski is likely to once again be struck down by a court in his attempt to shoehorn telecom laws governing the web into more restrictive laws governing telephone voice transmissions but there’s no doubt that all along the way, Google and its employees will be lending a hand in any way they can.
All the millions of dollars that Google has given to liberals and Democrats to boost its bottom-line isn’t likely to forestall them from attacking it in the future though. Already there’s talk from the New York Times and others about “search neutrality,” i.e. allowing the government to control what shows up in your search results.
As you might expect, Google is not a fan of this. How ironic that many of the nonsensical justifications for search neutrality are the same that we’ve heard from Google on the question of network neutrality.
Now that Google’s in the left’s cross-hairs one might think that it would motivate the company to stop trying to get the government to bully companies it doesn’t like and embrace the free market. Here’s hoping that is the case.