Google and Microsoft are at each other’s throats once again: this time for control of Washington. And what I”m about to tell you probably sounds like all the back-room dealing we’ve heard so much about during this campaign and we’re all tired of hearing about lobbyists—but that’s exactly what this is.
Sunday’s New York Times featured an article about Google’s presence in the nation’s capital. Although Google has had a slow start at lobbying lawmakers, they’re beginning to get the hang of the way things work inside the Beltway.
Google began lobbying Washington in 2005, and didn’t do so well at the start:
Several suggested that Google thought its California spirit alone would charm Washington.
“They’re renowned in this town for not returning phone calls and not showing up to political events,” said a technology lobbyist who asked not to be identified because he occasionally works with both Google and Microsoft. He said that Google’s attitude had changed recently—though perhaps too recently to bolster the deal. . . .
Part of the reason why that change might have come too late is Microsoft’s extensive connections in Washington. According the NYT, farmers’ lobbyists have begun to try to fight the Yahoo/Google ad deal because they do business on the Internet—and because:
Rudy Arredondo, the chief executive of the Latino Farmers and Ranchers, confirmed that his organization had become involved in the issue after talking to lobbyists at the Raben Group. The Raben Group received $30,000 this spring to lobby against the deal—from Microsoft, which unsuccessfully tried to buy Yahoo last spring.
A Microsoft spokesman says that Google’s crying foul on the way the current lobbying is working is just a way to distract from the issues at hand.
“There’s an old rule in debate: if you’re not winning on substance, talk about the process. . . . Anyone who suggests that lobbying by one party is responsible for the overwhelming opposition to the deal simply isn’t listening to the cacophony of concerns expressed by advertisers, publishers, consumer groups, legal experts and lawmakers.”
But a Google spokesman had a different take.
“There is no doubt that Microsoft has been the most energetic opponent of this agreement and has worked hard from behind the scenes to generate much of the opposition to this deal. . . . But most people in Washington have dismissed those efforts as a big company simply trying to slow down its competitors.”
Google is beginning to make inroads in Washington that may serve the company in the future:
Google is now extending its reach in Washington in ways big and small. Over the last few months, it has hired new outside counsel, former members of both the Clinton and current Bush administrations. It has also created Google policy fellowships, placing students in organizations like the Cato Institute that frequently research policies important to Google. And it sent executives, including Mr. Schmidt, to the Democratic and Republican national conventions to network with bureaucrats and politicians.
All this indicates that Google, despite some setbacks, is learning fast.
If Google is hoping to win with its “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” tactic, however, they might have wanted to begin learning a bit sooner.
What do you think—will the deal be approved?