When Google blacked out its iconic logo last week in protest against antipiracy legislation, it got noticed. But new lobbying disclosures reveal that the search giant has much more than publicity in its Washington toolbox.
Google spent $3.7 million on lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2011, more than three times as much as the same time a year earlier, according to federal lobbying disclosures filed over the weekend. The company spent $9.7 million over the whole of 2011 — nearly twice what it spent in 2010.
Google's wide reach and seemingly deep pockets may put it a lobbying class of its own, even as it faces an antitrust probe and high-profile fights over piracy and privacy. The search giant also has the most visited website in the United States; a resource no other company or trade association can match.
On average, 153 million Americans visited a Google-branded page per month in 2011, according to Nielsen. When Google joined Wikipedia and thousands of other websites to protest Congress's proposed antipiracy legislation last week, support for the measures dropped and the bills were put on indefinite hold.
If the Web protest over piracy legislation illustrated the potential power of Google's public platform, last year's spending reveals a company unafraid to put its money where its mouth is on a range of issues.
Google's spending positions it not only far beyond most of its fellow Internet companies, but in the league of some of Washington's more traditional lobbying powerhouses. It surpassed Microsoft, which spent a steady $1.9 million in the fourth quarter and a total of $7.3 million in 2011. Google even neared the $4.24 million in fourth-quarter spending by AT&T in its last-gasp effort to get its merger with T-Mobile approved.
In contrast, two main backers of the pair of antipiracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, spent $850,000 and $1.1 million in the last months of 2011, respectively.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which joined MPAA, RIAA, and others in lobbying for SOPA and PIPA, dropped an unparalleled $14.2 million on all its lobbying efforts in the fourth quarter.
Facebook, a major online player under increased scrutiny over privacy and other issues, is racing to catch up to its more mature rival, but is still far behind. Its spending spiked to $440,000 in the fourth quarter of 2011, from from $38,000 during the same quarter two years ago.
Google's spending caught the eye of its critics. The group Consumer Watchdog, which consistently targets Google, accused the company's executives of having "no qualms about spending lots of money to get their way."
But the spending, and Google's decision to hire 12 lobbying firms in July, reflects the growing interaction and conflict between government and tech sector.
Piracy is only one of many issues that Google lobbied on last year. Federal regulators have launched an antitrust probe into the company's practices, and top executives were forced to appear before congressional subcommittees over competition concerns. Other issues that Google's lobbyists worked on included taxes, cloud computing, and Internet freedom. Google is also seeking to buy Motorola Mobility.