Last summer, Google brought on 13 firms to help combat the fallout from the FTC probe, which is examining whether the company manipulates search results to favor its own services and engages in other anti-competitive behavior. This year, it hired former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) to lead its in-house operation, highlighting a shift from a heavily Democratic team of wonkish lobbyists to seasoned politickers with connections to both parties.
But even in a town full of lobbyists, Google’s expansion and the rise of Facebook threatens to deplete the pool of available talent. Together, Microsoft, Google and Facebook have nearly 50 outside firms on contract, including a dozen of Washington’s top 25 shops.
Google manages its team through weekly Monday meetings, during which in-house lobbyists set priorities and update the outside representatives on new ventures. The consultants have personal handlers inside the company who are likely to give direct orders to calm Capitol Hill calls for privacy legislation or tamp down a flurry of activity stemming from a regulatory probe, according to tech lobbyists.
“It’s kind of a shock and awe campaign,” said the tech lobbyist. “If you’re a staffer on the Hill, you say, ‘Look at that budget; look at the size.’ Is there rhyme or reason? That’s TBD.”
It’s a far cry from Google’s first lobbyists, who generated buzz for a different reason. One weekend in October 2002, hundreds of Beltway power brokers received — from the computer of a young female lobbyist — an expletive-laden email signed by an enraged wife alleging her husband’s infidelity.
That husband, along with the accused mistress, went on to start a firm, Public Policy Partners. One of its first clients was Google.