People who worry about online privacy and the intrusive practices of Internet companies like Google and Facebook are trying to figure out the impact of the election. One victim of the Republican juggernaut was a key Internet policy player, Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va.
I don't think his fall will slow the mounting drive to protect privacy. It will, however, mean one less pair of friendly ears on the Hill where Google lobbyists can whisper their policy goals.
The nearly thirty-year House veteran is chairman of the House Communications, Technology and Internet subcommittee. He had been circulating a draft online privacy bill. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Il, has introduced one as well. There may be hearings on it in the lame duck session of Congress. And, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., has been talking about offering Do Not Track Me legislation.
The loss of the House Democratic majority and Boucher's ouster doesn't mean privacy legislation is doomed because privacy has truly become a bipartisan issue. It is perhaps of the few areas where we'll see cooperation across the aisle. Rep. Joe Barton, R- Tex., currently ranking Republican member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and a contender for the chairmanship, told the Washington Post:
"I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can’t unless the people’s right to privacy means more than a right to hear excuses after the damage is done. In the next Congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee and our subcommittees are going to put Internet privacy policies in the crosshairs. "
Pretty strong stuff, if he means it.
And what does Boucher's fall mean to Google? The Internet giant is cynically looking for new friends.
Through July in the 2010 election cycle Boucher was the top recipient of cash contributions from from Google’s political action committee, Google Inc. NetPAC. He got $10,000. Google’s contracted lobbying firms coughed up at least another $5,500 for him. From 2006 when NetPAC was established through 2010 Boucher received $18,000.
And then there’s Washington’s favorite revolving-door approach to life and policy making.
Andrew Wright is a lobbyist for Dutko Worldwide and registered to lobby on behalf of Google. According to his bio on the firm’s website, “Andy twice served as Chief of Staff for Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), beginning in 1982 after managing Boucher’s first Congressional campaign. For more than a decade, Andy advised Boucher on issues including energy, telecommunications, intellectual property and insurance.”
Johanna Shelton is in Google’s in-house lobby shop as senior policy counsel. She joined Google in 2007 from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where she was counsel from 2005-2007. Previously she worked for Boucher in 2001-2003 as counsel.
By October Google seemed to have seen the handwriting on the wall. Its October NetPAC report shows nothing for Boucher, but three of the four top recipients this fall from Google’s NetPAC at $5,000 each were Republicans — GOP leader John Boehner and California congressmen Darrell Issa and Kevin McCarthy.
Shelton signs the NetPAC disclosure forms as its treasurer. Clearly she's looking for new friendly ears — or trying to buy them.