An article in the Washington Post asserts that Google has now become a master lobbyist and behind-the-scenes manipulator in Washington. It details the company’s increase in campaign contributions and outreach efforts to influence legislators.
The message of the lengthy article is that Google is now buying influence and policy outcomes that favor the company.
Source: Washington Post
There are numerous concrete examples cited for the idea that Google has manipulated policy outcomes or bought influence through contributions to individuals, third party groups or academic institutions.
A prominent discussion in article concerns a conference on antitrust and search sponsored by George Mason University (GMU) in 2012. I was actually a speaker at that event and wrote up some of my observations.
The Post article says that Google worked behind the scenes with GMU to get the relevant regulators and speakers into the room and persuade everyone that an antitrust action against Google was a bad idea or even futile. The article further asserts that Google sought to conceal the level of its involvement with the forum:
Even as Google executives peppered the GMU staff with suggestions of speakers and guests to invite to the event, the company asked the school not to broadcast its involvement.
“It may seem like Google is overwhelming the conference,” Zhang fretted in an e-mail to the center’s administrative coordinator, Jeffrey Smith, after reviewing the confirmed list of attendees a few weeks before the event. She asked Smith to mention “only a few Googlers.”
Smith was reassuring. “We will certainly limit who we announce publicly from Google,” he replied.
At the time of the conference I wrote the following:
In general about 70 percent to 80 percent of the speakers were skeptical of success against Google or thought it was simply inappropriate to apply antitrust rules to Google’s situation. A minority of speakers argued that the rules would apply and that case law did provide a cause of action against the company.
Even though multiple Google speakers were present, as an attendee I didn’t have a sense of the degree to which Google helped organize the event.
One can credibly argue that the conference probably didn’t bias the outcome of the FTC antitrust investigation. That’s because the weight of case law was arguably in Google’s favor. However The Post’s perspective is that Google helped itself tremendously that day.