Google Becomes Bipartisan in the Lobbying Game

Google is finally entering its bipartisan phase, theatrically hiring Republican operatives and broadcasting the news through insider Washington publications, pumping air into a K Street tech bubble.

On Wednesday, Google CEO Eric Schmidt testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommitte on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights. Photo: JD Lasica/Flickr

Ryan Grim, Zach Carter and Paul Blumenthal have a long piece up describing Google’s expanding presence in Washington, D.C. that is worth more than one close reading.

The headline says that the company, which has been long seen to tilt liberal (Eric Schmidt, its executive chairman, is close to the Obama White House, and in 2008, 83% of the money contributed by the company and its employees went to Democratic candidates and party committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics), has recently gone on a spending spree on the Republican side of the aisle.

“In the last nine months, Google has hired 18 lobbying shops – not 18 lobbyists, but 18 firms, a dozen of them since July, a head-turning torrent of hiring that also includes consultants not required to register as lobbyists,” they write.

They also noted that Google now giving money to the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Republican Governors Association, the GOP firm The David All Group, Crossroads Strategies, the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee, among others.

On Thursday, Google and Fox News cosponsored a Republican presidential debate. The shift in political strategy follows a serious antitrust threat Google faces, punctuated by a high-profile hearing on the company held Wednesday afternoon in the Senate. But Google’s investment in the infrastructure of the conservative movement goes much deeper than what’s been reported this summer.

“I consider myself a public works project right here,” Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the committee leading the antitrust investigation, told HuffPost. “My colleagues call it the Leahy Full Employment Act.”

“Are you saying they’re finally becoming bipartisan? That’s a good thing. Bipartisanship is a positive thing,” said Sen. John Cornyn ofTexas, the head of the Senate GOP’s fundraising arm and one of three Republicans on the subcommittee holding the antitrust hearing. “I understand why people feel like they need to have people they can talk to on both sides.”

Google officials complain that their longtime rival Microsoft, with its more deep-rootedWashingtonoperation, is more or less out to get them.

Microsoft responds that it doesn’t make any secret of its lobbying or its efforts to rein Google in. for example, its complaint to the European Union was made publicly, and it fully acknowledges its lead participation in a coalition,, organized to lobby on behalf of antitrust action against Google.

“Clearly Microsoft were the first people to start to blow the clarion call” on anti-trust issues, said one top Microsoft mercenary. “They had the resources to get people engaged in thinking about it, but I don’t think they’ve had any trouble getting people to agree.” Indeed, Google’s public critics have been multiplying almost as quickly as their lobbying roster.

Google and Microsoft now dominate influence-peddling around Internet issues, each having spent $3.5 million on lobbying through the first half of 2011. Google’s total lobbyist count is now up to 93, the highest number the company has ever had in Washington (roughly one for every six members of Congress). The biggest thrust of Google’s lobbying push involves antitrust, patents, copyright, trade andChina.

Microsoft still dominates Google when it comes to campaign and political action committee spending, outspending Google nearly tenfold in the first half of 2011. Microsoft reported contributing $580,000 to congressmen, candidates, political parties and leadership PACs, while Google reported $61,000 in donations over the same period.

The conflict between Google and Microsoft has also led to international war over the nature of intellectual property, as to how – and whether – knowledge should be owned.

Google is benefiting from the freedom-loving street cred it won by theatrically bailing from China – or at least publicly proclaiming its independence – to shield its drive to succeed where Microsoft failed a decade ago.

At the same time, Microsoft is using its remaining influence to fight Google, together with the American entertainment industry and a loose coalition of tech companies, from Facebook to Travelocity to Yelp.

Overseas, Microsoft has joined forces with the Chinese search giant Baidu, asChina’s government seeks to fight Google’s influence there, as well. For Baidu, it’s a second go-around with an American giant. In 2005, Google invested $5 million in Baidu before it went public, later cashing out for $60 million. [via Huff Post and Tech President]

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