It’s not surprising that Google wants clout in Washington and is willing to spend big bucks to ensure that its corporate voice is heard. What surprised me, though, is the audacious justification for its $4.03 million lobbying effort.
Believe it or not, Google claims to be speaking for you and me. Really. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
Our friends at the Center for Responsive Politics track corporate lobbying expenditures and trends on their excellent Website OpenSecrets.org. Writing recently on the site’s blog, Capital Eye, Steve Spires outlined how Google’s spending in Washington increased 50-fold from $80,000 in 2003 to last year’s $4.03 million, a 42 percent increase from 2008.
Google spokeswoman Mistique Cano gave Spires this explanation of why Google’s Washington lobby shop was created:
"We established a Washington presence because we felt like it was important to give our users a voice in Washington. Technology can be complicated. We absolutely believe taking the time to help people understand our business is a worthy investment. Technology is only going to become a bigger part of our lives and the economy."
I use Google. I bet everyone reading this article uses Google. I know Google didn’t ask me what I wanted said in Washington. I’ll bet they didn’t ask you. So, how are they giving us a voice?
Do you think maybe Google knows so much about us from all the data they’ve gathered as we use the Internet that the company thinks it "knows" what we want to tell Washington? Is that what giving users a voice means?
Actually, Cano lapsed into Google blather, which is how those who have sipped the Google Kool-Aid always seek to justify anything the company does with high-minded rhetoric, — "Don’t be evil," and all that.
Why couldn’t Google just say: "There are lots of laws, regulations and policies being debated in the nation’s capital that directly affect our business and we want to make sure we can influence the debate in ways that benefit Google?"
Now Google is hardly the only company throwing its weight — and dollars — around Washington. The tech sector has pumped increasing amounts into lobbying. In 1998 the industry spent $38.8 million. That soared to $120 million in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Despite being part of the rarified seven-figure club, Google’s lobbying expense was only fifth in the tech sector behind Microsoft at $6.72 million, IBM at $5.42 million, Oracle at $5.10 million and the Entertainment Software Association at $4.60 million.
"Give voice to our users?" says Google. Really, who scripts this bafflegab? Well, their spokeswoman said it, so now Google has to live with it.
Reports covering the first quarter of 2010 are due to be filed by April 20. With Google claiming to be give you and me a voice in Washington you can be sure that I’ll be checking to see how much was spent to get "our" message across. I also plan to ask Google exactly what they said and to whom they said it while they claimed to be giving us a voice. Whisper in a Senator’s ear on my behalf and I darn well want to know what you said.