X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
WASHINGTON � It shaped up as a classic Goliath-squashes-David lobbying story. Last year the Federal Communications Commission announced plans to auction off spectrum on the public airwaves suitable for wireless phone and Internet transmissions. In response, a collection of nonprofit technology and consumer groups suggested that the winning bidder be required to provide access to its network for the public benefit. Ben Scott, policy director of media independence group Free Press, recalls thinking that the nonprofits had a strong case but were going to get crushed anyway. “We didn’t expect anyone to shove it down the telecoms’ throats,” he says. Then in May, just a few months before the auction rules were settled, something unexpected happened: Internet giant Google joined the fray � and aligned itself with the nonprofits. If the FCC adopted the nonprofits’ rules and mandated space for the public good, Google hinted, it might put down its own bid. Scott says the company waged a lobbying campaign that played to its strengths, one focused less on garnering Hill support than on swaying FCC commissioners with a blizzard of white papers. “They just took a fundamentally different tack,” he says. “Despite the fact that they have more money than God, they don’t have the power to go toe-to-toe with the phone companies in Washington.” Indeed, the telecoms fought back, arguing that an “open access” requirement could disrupt service and would depress the spectrum’s sale price. But when the dust finally settled, a divided FCC gave Google most of what it wanted. A mandatory period of public silence imposed on auction bidders last week prevents the company from boasting, but it’s clear Google’s FCC caper was a significant lobbying victory over some pretty long odds. And in taking on the telecoms, Google was demonstrating its intent to be a Washington player. The company has been expanding its roster of lobbyists and policy advisers and is set to move into a brand-new expanded office later this month. “I’ve not seen a tech company put together a team faster than Google,” says Ralph Hellmann, vice president of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council. “They knew they were going to have many opportunities, and they knew they were going to be a big target.” THE NEW HQ Google was a famously late arrival in Washington, opening its lobbying shop only in 2005. Until recently, talk about its lobbying still focused on the company’s perceived goofs, such as co-founder Sergey Brin’s 2006 tennis-shoe-clad trip to the Hill, or involved a requisite cautionary tale about how fellow tech giant Microsoft’s disdain for Washington left it vulnerable to a multibillion-dollar antitrust suit. But Google’s come a long way since it recruited Alan Davidson, an associate director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, to build the company’s D.C. shop. According to Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich, these days Google’s lobbying, policy analysis, and communications team in Washington numbers around 15 and is complemented by three outside firms. In the next two weeks, the firm will trade its temporary corporate office space at 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. for a 31,000-square-foot floor in a newly constructed building on New York Avenue. The company is importing a bit of its Mountain View lifestyle as well, installing a game room and a professional kitchen (match that, Patton Boggs). The company’s agenda is far from finished. While its Washington presence has vastly expanded in the past 2 years, its needs have, too: Google’s market cap has grown from $50 billion to more than $220 billion during the same period. To keep up, it’s had to bring some of the same efficiency to tech lobbying that its engineers brought to search algorithms. “One of the challenges is that some of the biggest players are very good at scooping up talent and putting them on the sidelines so they’re unavailable,” says Harry Clark, formerly a founding partner of Clark & Weinstock whose current venture, Stanwich Group, has advised Google’s Washington operations. PLAYING WELL WITH OTHERS Google’s lobbying push hasn’t always resulted in easy victories. The increasing sophistication of Google’s ad targeting and data storage on the Internet has prompted concerns from privacy groups, and the company caught heat for capitulating to the Chinese government on Internet access restrictions. But when such trouble arises, it helps that Google can point to the bona fides of its Washington leader, Davidson. “At the Center for Democracy and Technology, Alan brought together nonprofits to talk about privacy and net neutrality, and he took that DNA with him,” says Jerry Berman, the center’s founder. Other leading figures on Google’s in-house team include Rick Whitt, the telecom and media counsel who led the company’s successful FCC spectrum auction lobbying campaign, and Johanna Shelton, former chief telecommunications counsel for Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Pablo Chavez, former chief counsel to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also joined the team and is one of its lead figures on privacy matters. Google’s outside help is devoted to ensuring the company is never caught flat-footed by any government actions in the way Microsoft once was. Makan Delrahim, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Antitrust Division who now works at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, is working to head off any antitrust threats stemming from Google’s April acquisition of Internet advertiser DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. On that same issue, Google paid $140,000 in the first half of the year to a team from King & Spalding that includes a pair of former senators, Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Connie Mack, R-Fla. The Podesta Group also earned $180,000 between January and July for advising Google on the DoubleClick deal and other issues, with the former director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Paul Brathwaite, among those registered. One surprise in Google’s lobbying strategy is that a company that cultivates a reputation as a maverick has regularly “played well with others,” as Hellmann puts it. “They’ve helped on patent reform, they’ve helped with the White Spaces Coalition, they helped with immigration issues when they joined Compete America,” he says. “These aren’t just things you put your name on.” That’s all the more remarkable given that the company’s corporate sensibilities seem averse to many accepted Washington mores. For example, its political action committee, Google NetPAC, raised only $66,050 by the middle of this year, 38 times less than AT&T’s. In assembling its in-house team, Google has regularly chosen policy experts rather than professional glad-handers. “They may not be pure relationship-type people, but that’s why you have outside consultants,” Hellmann says, adding that the repeat presidential campaign visits to the Google campus are proof the company is running a surplus of goodwill. Clark, the Google lobbying adviser, thinks that Google now has time on its side. “The older generation on the Hill who grew up with AT&T and the Baby Bells are going to retire,” he says. “I think that benefits Google, because the staff will be younger and more sophisticated, and they’ll have used Google since they were literally in grade school.” Jeff Horwitz is a reporter with Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.