Google, remembered for its slogan “don’t be evil” was the one that spent the most in 2017 to try to influence politicians in the United States.
Lobbying is not a crime, but it often comes too close to being such a thing.
Exercising influence to achieve a goal is not wrong, but perhaps, looking at lobbying from that perspective is why people understand trafficking on political influence as being acceptable.
The point of view which should serve as a starting point to assess whether political influence, better known as lobbying, is right or wrong, is the financial advantage multinational corporations have over their direct competitors: the average citizen.
If we can imagine the lobbying industry – it has indeed become an industry – as a pyramid, citizens are at the bottom of the structure, whereas multinational corporations, large businesses, and powerful unions are at the top and middle of it.
The activity of pressure groups in the United States and many other countries is legal, is accepted and can achieve favorable results.
They are not public relations and neither is it a strictly legal tool, but the influence is part of the power game in Washington; a big part of it.
In 2017, Google became the company that invested the most in these practices, until now co-opted by other industries or by business associations.
Silicon Valley companies became in recent years the ones that used more money to improve their image and to enter the very fabric of power.
Google has broken its own record, with $18 million in 2017, and has, for the first time, positioned itself as the company that has spent the most to influence legislators.
It thus takes over the position occupied by sectors that traditionally made great pressure efforts, such as the tobacco industry or the food industry.
Google’s Political Influence in Key Issues
The Responsive Policy Center has published the data of the different companies that lobby against the federal government.
The search engine is at the top. It exerted pressure in diverse subjects, from immigration to fiscal reform, diversity, net neutrality and online publicity to cite a few.
This figure is well above what other giants of telecommunications used.
Amazon and Facebook also appear in the list, but at a much lower level, in the 16th and 24th positions respectively.
In the previous year it was the National Association of Realtors, the union of estate brokers, which occupied the first place.
The usual thing is that they are groups, unions or conglomerates that join industries that spend more, but not companies in a private capacity.
Thirty years ago, the Responsive Policy Center began collecting data.
There are no previous records, but since they follow it, this is the first time that a specific company leads the list.
Google Sneaking into positions of Power
Sarah Bryner, director of the research, has explained to the technology portal Gizmodo, that the Mountain View company climbed to first place up from 15th place, overcoming efforts by the groups that traditionally had more interests in obtaining a favorable legal framework, such as AT & T, the largest telecommunications company in the country, and Boeing, involved in defense, electronics, and air transport.
Bryner is not surprised that the new technology leaders are no longer in garages inventing new products but exerting their influence beyond the web.
“There is a very ingrained myth. It is considered that they do not intervene in how their industry is politically supported,” she explains.
The case of Amazon, which spent $13 million, is striking, while Facebook invested $11 million.
The researcher does not believe that these actions have an immediate effect, but they do get their opinions heard and provide different points of view.
“Google maintains its “do not be evil” founding motto and there is nothing wrong with spending money on politics, but it is important that public opinion knows it, that it watches over it”, she argues.
Google is not alone when it comes to Buying Political Influence
Apple is not among the corporations that invest the most in these tasks.
Its investments remain at seven million dollars, but it is striking that the amount dedicated to influencing politics increased 51% in just one year.
Among the interests pushed by the Cupertino-based company are climate change, health-related applications and autonomous cars.
Apple, Google and Facebook did not explain this activity. Only Amazon did it in a brief statement:
“As one of the great job creators in this country, we have expanded our team in Washington D.C. to make sure we can be on top of important legislative issues that affect our employees and our consumers,” Amazon said.
Collectively, they have grouped together in The Internet Association to “proactively monitor everything related to the Internet and the possible “negative effects” of racial or gender biases, so that they are quickly identified and minimized”.
As they themselves confess it, Facebook, Apple, Google and other technology companies are now so powerful that they can not only influence politicians to obtain more favorable conditions in the US, but also censor users if they judge that their free speech is offensive to the companies themselves, interest groups or individuals.
Uber also appears on the list. It exerted pressure so that a regulation of “advances in vertical takeoff and landing” was approved. The company is now looking into offering air transport in the same fashion it offers ground transport.