New media companies may be at technology’s cutting edge, but they are resorting to age-old tactics when it comes to influencing politics. This week, Facebook announced that it is creating a political action committee much like those run by its competitors, building on the growing Washington lobbying and influence presence of the “next-tech” sector.
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes described the newly incorporated FB PAC as a way for employees “to make their voice heard in the political process by supporting candidates who share our goals of promoting the value of innovation to our economy while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
It is also a way for the company to reward lawmakers who side with the company in policy battles, a tit-for-tat strategy long employed by companies and moneyed interests of the old economy. Center for Responsive Politics Executive Director Sheila Krumholz said sustained contributions “may be the open door you need in a fevered legislative battle.”
“They view it as a small cost of doing business, one that might come in handy in a pinch,” she said. “It’s a long-term strategy.”
With the incorporation of FB PAC on Monday, Facebook stands to be an influential player in the 2012 elections. The corporate PAC may be a natural next step for the company that recently stepped up its lobbying and hired several D.C. veterans to manage its policy agenda, but technology companies haven’t always been eager to adopt traditional lobbying practices.
“I think we saw a pattern with a lot of these startups from the West Coast. ... Government was not necessarily something they wanted to think about a lot,” said Lawrence Noble, who practices political law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Google and Microsoft were dragged into politics when they had to defend their practices in antitrust and privacy hearings.
Google didn’t create its PAC until 2006, eight years after it first started, and Microsoft was around for decades before creating one in the early 1990s. Those companies have been playing more offense since: During the 2010 election cycle, Google’s PAC gave $336,000 to federal candidates while the Microsoft PAC donated $2.2 million.
Facebook has moved faster to catch up. The website that launched in 2004 hired its first lobbyist three years later. This year, the company spent $550,000 lobbying the federal government, up from $351,000 last year, according to disclosure forms.
“Facebook is facing a lot of issues, and a number of them will be taken up in Congress. They clearly want to be in there,” Noble said.
Its initial rollout wasn’t without its bumps. Facebook had to backtrack after it secretly hired a public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, to plant stories critical of Google’s data practices. The smear campaign backfired when it was revealed that Facebook was behind the efforts.