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GOP Woos High-Tech Industry

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Benjamin Cardin was an initial co-sponsor of Internet anti-piracy legislation that received massive backlash from many in the Web industry.

Internet giants such as Wikipedia and Craigslist went dark for a day in protest of the legislation.

In the wake of the blackouts, scores of lawmakers, mainly Republicans, retreated from the legislation.

“Republicans dropped that bill like flies and the Democrats did not,” another longtime lobbyist said. “The Valley noticed that.”

It’s too soon to tell how the online piracy debate will affect campaign coffers for those who stood by the bill, but lobbyists said the administration’s withdrawal of support might have won the White House some points with disgruntled Internet companies.

Industry lobbyists, Democrats and Republicans alike, seem to be taking a page from the Hollywood playbook. Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who led an aggressive campaign in favor of the anti-piracy bills as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, threatened to cut off donations after Congress pulled the plug on the legislation earlier this month.

Industry lobbyists say major donors, especially corporations, are increasingly putting key issues — like repatriation of offshore earnings and immigration reform — over party.

Technology companies, led by Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp., were the major force behind a vigorous campaign for a repatriation tax holiday, a proposal many Congressional Democrats and the administration bashed as a corporate handout. Meanwhile, the industry was nonplussed with the patent-reform bill Congress passed last spring and outraged by the proposals for online anti-piracy legislation in both chambers. Google has also been the subject of an aggressive antitrust probe by the Federal Trade Commission.

“Both from an administration standpoint and a Congressional standpoint, the policies they were pushing were really hurtful to the industry,” another lobbyist told Roll Call.

The trend has played out to varying degrees across Silicon Valley. That is in part due to the changing balance of power in Washington, but there is no question among industry lobbyists and fundraisers that the enthusiasm for Democrats, piqued in 2008 by President Barack Obama, has dissipated.

In the past two election cycles, political action committees at major firms such as Oracle, Cisco Systems and Google Inc. invested significantly more money in Democrats. But early filings suggest Republicans could close the gap in 2012.

In 2006, 84 percent of the nearly $1.9 million Google executives and its employees contributed went to Democrats. In the last election cycle, 70 percent went to Democrats.

Google’s political action committee has raised $570,000 so far this cycle — more than 15 times what it spent six years ago when it first set up its PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Still, several lobbyists described a general suspicion of the political fundraising process.

“Members see a high-growth industry and they automatically think we have a lot more money to give,” one lobbyist told Roll Call. “I think they are always surprised with how little money is out there for them. This is not the banks, or the pharmaceutical industry, or transportation, which are highly regulated. Tech is not highly regulated.”

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