Google has fired six of its largest lobbying firms in an attempt to overhaul its global government affairs and policy operations amid greater government scrutiny of its business, according to the Wall Street Journal. Over the last few months, the company has changed its roster of lobbying firms, as well as its Washington policy team, and lost two senior officials who helped build its “influence operation” into one of the largest in the nation’s capital. The company had been paying about $20 million annually for lobbying, and the firms that Google has now let go made up about half of that cost.
The shake up is part of a “continuing modernization” of Google’s influence operation and it comes at a time when government scrutiny has never been more of a factor. The Justice Department is reportedly getting ready to conduct an antitrust investigation into the company and Congress and state attorneys general are also reviewing its practices. Some politicians are even calling for the company to be broken up.
And so Google is taking the paltry $20 million per year that it has been using to control the government and trying to reallocate it. Among those who are no longer working for the company are “Charlie Black, a longtime Republican strategist, and firms that have relationships with senior Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Off Hill Strategies LLC, which has ties to fiscally conservative Republicans.”
People familiar with the restructuring say that it helps reflect the company’s global reach and will help it deal with regulators and lawmakers across regions and markets. The moves are also seen as a shake up by Google’s new head of policy and government relations, Karan Bhatia.
Bhatia was brought in last summer to serve as Google’s VP of Policy and Government Relations and, since then, he’s been reassessing the company’s lobbying needs. Susan Molinari, a former Republican congresswoman, stepped down as Google’s head of Washington operations last year and the company has yet to name a successor.
Another executive leaving Google during the shake up is Adam Kovacevich, who ran the firm’s public-policy division. He led the company’s campaign to head off a 2012 FTC investigation into anti-competitive tactics and also helped launch several advocacy groups to help promote public policy matters that benefited the company.
In 2006, Google was spending about $800,000 on lobbying and had four firms on retainer. By 2018, the company had 100 lobbyists across 30 firms and spent $21.7 million to lobby Washington. This sum made it the largest spender on lobbying among US corporations, despite the relatively small dollar amount for the massive tech giant.
The company also spends millions on donations to think tanks, political entities, universities and other third-party groups that generate data and host conferences that help Google shape the debate into its business practices.
Meanwhile, Google employees helped the company become one of the largest sources of donations to the Democratic Party and candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In the 2018 elections, Google’s employee funded PAC donated $1.9 million to political candidates in both parties. Employees of the company donated a total of $1.6 million to Clinton’s 2016 campaign and after Obama took office in 2012, Google and its lobbying team “scored a string of victories” in Washington, like fending off the FTC from an anti-trust case.
Google also won favorable net neutrality rulings from the FCC and secured favorable legislation on self driving vehicles.
But over the last few years the company has continued to hit headwinds from both sides of the aisle while its public image has taken a beating over privacy concerns and critics claiming that it fails to police content.
The new lobbying structure has regional leaders in the US, Canada, Asia, the Pacific, Europe and countries that the company views as emerging markets. It also includes teams that will continue to lobby governments in areas like privacy and handling controversial content.