Sunday’s Washington Post featured a story, “Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence” that examined the company’s rise to become a top dog among Washington influence peddlers. For Google watchers revelations in the piece, authored by Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold, come as no surprise. However, for those who continue to regard Google as the web’s guardian angel of “free speech,” the story should add a bit of tarnish to its halo, illuminating the company’s extensive back-door maneuverings — the new normal in DC’s world of political puppeteering.
The behind-the-scenes machinations demonstrate how Google — once a lobbying weakling — has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington, where spending on traditional lobbying is rivaled by other, less visible forms of influence.
That system includes financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects.
The rise of Google as a top-tier Washington player fully captures the arc of change in the influence business.
It wasn’t too long ago that Google was leading the charge against Washington insiders, those who deigned to file legislation that would target online content theft, the notorious Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Of course its ginning up hysteria among web users with the rallying cry “don’t break the internet” is simply just another strategic slice of the same (lobbying) pie the company is currently feasting on in Washington. While the contrivances employed differ, the ultimate goal of protecting the company’s interests (and bottom line) lies at the core both of both.
Of course it’s not particularly surprising to find that one of the nation’s most successful and influential company has invested heavily (more than 15 million in 2013) to influence policy by any means necessary. What is important is to see that Google’s anti-SOPA efforts for what they were–skillful lobbying that engaged web users as foils in a much larger game of chess. After the SOPA web blackout, a headline in Tech Crunch gleefully declared, “SOPA Scorecard: Internet 1, Lobbyists 0.” In his story David Binetti gave this appraisal of the (so-called) grassroots efforts that led to SOPA’s defeat.
Think about that for just a second: A well-organized, well-funded, well-connected, well-experienced lobbying effort on Capitol Hill was outflanked by an ad-hoc group of rank amateurs, most of whom were operating independent of one another and on their spare time. Regardless where you stand on the issue — and effective copyright protection is an important issue — this is very good news for the future of civic engagement.
The SOPA blackout was about as organic as the masses of North Koreans crying in the streets upon hearing of Kim Jong Il’s death. Behind the scenes, the SOPA protest was a well-organized campaign, fueled by the lobbying arms of major Internet corporations.
Moving forward, let’s hope that more people take note. Google is out to protect Google’s interests, not ours.