Google's walk on K Street

The NY Times takes a look at Google's deepening investment in Washington lobbying, especially with firms well-connected to Republican leaders.

As previously noted here, Google recently hired lobbying firm PodestaMatoon, notable for staff member Josh Hastert, son of House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Today the New York Times takes a look at the full range of Google's lobbying activities, which Esther Dyson describes as "sad ... The kids are growing up."

In doing so, Google provides another example of how Internet companies, no matter how unconventional their roots or nonconformist their corporate cultures, increasingly find themselves wrestling with the same forces in Washington that more traditional industries have long faced. Google's executives consider the moves necessary as they achieve a prominence that allows them to elbow their own interests onto the political stage.

"We've staked out an agenda that really is about promoting the open Internet as a revolutionary platform for communication," said Alan Davidson, brought on board less than a year ago as the company's policy counsel to set up offices in the Penn Quarter area of Washington. "It's been the growth of Google as a company and as a presence in the industry that has prompted our engagement in Washington."

Google's lobbying spending covers both sides of the aisle, the story says, despite popular perception of the company as free-wheeling and revolutionary.

Podesta Mattoon is led by Anthony Podesta, a Democrat, and Daniel Mattoon, a Republican and longtime friend of Speaker Hastert, an Illinois Republican. The speaker's son Joshua also works at the firm, along with Ms. Maddox, a former top aide to Newt Gingrich.

Adding to its arsenal is the DCI Group, a firm with top-flight corporate clients and strong ties to Mr. Mehlman and Karl Rove, President Bush's senior political adviser. DCI, Google officials say, will help it establish links to Republicans, as well as promote its book search project, an effort to make the full text of books searchable online, among publishers and authors.

At the helm of that operation is Stuart Roy, senior vice president of DCI and a former aide to Representative Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas. Mr. Roy also counts as a client Progress for America, the conservative group that successfully rallied grass-roots support for Mr. Bush's Supreme Court nominees.

Google's key issues: copyright law, access to the Internet and privacy issues. A heightened emphasis on lobbying is a direct response to the public reaming the company took over its operations in China.

By some accounts, China may be so radioactive that even a longstanding relationship with Congress would not have tempered that hostile reception. But "the lack of a presence is what they recognized needed to get remedied fast," said Harry W. Clark, managing partner of the Stanwich Group, who has just been hired as a management consultant for Google. A veteran adviser to Internet corporations, Mr. Clark is a tightly connected Republican who worked in the Bush administration and who is now doing volunteer work for Senator McCain, an Arizona Republican.

The spending on the Republican-connected is partially an attempt to change perceptions that the company is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Mr. Clark also predicted that Google would name a political director, probably a Republican.

Because some Republicans still view the company as Democratic-leaning, citing the 2004 election analyses that showed nearly all its employees' contributions went to Democrats, the company will be careful, Mr. Clark said, to spread its wealth around.

"The folks I've talked to," he added, "everybody recognizes that the employee contributions were weighted heavily toward Democrats, and they're waiting to see a course correction."

 

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