Google Inc. has lots—and lots—of cash and coolness down in California’s Silicon Valley, but relatively little clout up on Capitol Hill.
Now, it’s hoping to build its political muscle with the US Congress by pumping up its in-house lobbying staff and working with savvy outside lobbying firms. The young and fabulously successful Internet search-engine company will move soon from a shared rental space to its own expansive digs in the nation’s capital.
“Google is still in start-up mode in Washington,” spokesman Adam Kovacevich said.
Kovacevich said Google now realizes that to continue growing rapidly, it must work to influence public policies affecting its interests.
Perhaps the most prominent is “net neutrality”. Proponents say high-speed Internet providers should operate their networks in a neutral way, giving all websites equal treatment. They want lawmakers and regulators to prevent Internet providers from charging fees for faster delivery of online content, giving wealthier firms an advantage over competitors that can’t pay.
Google’s position in favour of net neutrality is popular with small businesses, charities, online shoppers, telecommuters and others who say they would suffer under a “toll” system. But the regional Bell phone firms, with decades of lobbying experience, are adept at making their case to government officials.
If Google, founded in 1998, wants to win, it must learn the ways of Washington quickly.
Until about 18 months ago, the company paid little attention to politics, focusing instead on building the Internet’s leading search engine.
To launch its lobbying effort in 2005, Google hired Alan Davidson, a Democrat with degrees from both Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale Law School. Last year, it added Jamie Brown, a former Bush White House aide; Pablo Chavez, a former general counsel to Republican Senator John McCain; and Bob Boorstin, a former speechwriter for ex-president Bill Clinton. For outside expertise, it employs the lobbying arm of King & Spalding, a law firm, and the Podesta Group, a Washington lobbying firm.
The outside firms bring former members of Congress into the lobbying effort. “We get strategic advice from people who have been in Washington battles before,” Kovacevich said. “They can give you good advice...on how things are perceived up there, and how to put together a coalition.”
Davidson says his group is indeed getting the hang of it, and will be adding more lobbyists and staffers. “We've been pleased with our work so far in building relations in Washington and making a difference,” he said.
Currently, Google rents space in an office on Pennsylvania Avenue. The name on the door says “Suite 600”.
Kovacevich said this summer, Google’s lobbyists will move to a permanent office where “we'll have a good amount of space (because) I would expect our operation to continue to grow.”
The new space will be much trendier, he said, which would bring it closer in spirit to Google’s home campus, famed for its free gourmet food and indoor rock-climbing wall.
“This place is totally nondescript,” Kovacevich said. “We’re looking forward tohaving an office that is Googly.”