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Google goes to Washington

By Laurie Bennett

February 5, 2008 at 11:25am

Can Google maintain the company motto - “Don’t be evil” - while building a powerful lobbying machine?

That’s just one of the challenges facing the internet giant. Another is Microsoft, a competitor not only on the web, but in the courts and the halls of Congress.

Three years ago, Google opened a Washington office with a one-person staff. The office wasn’t even in Washington; it was in suburban Maryland.

The company, while already huge, wasn’t yet perceived as a rising monopoly or much of a threat to established businesses. But since then, Google has broadened its scope, acquired YouTube and is trying to complete a purchase of DoubleClick, a move that Microsoft has vigorously opposed.

Now the tables are turned. Google is trying to block Microsoft’s purchase of Yahoo. In the process, it’s bulking up its political muscle.

Since 2005, Google has relocated to spacious offices inside the beltway, expanded its lobbying staff and hired outside guns. The company retained Makan Delrahim, an outside lobbyist and former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s antitrust division, to win approval of the DoubleClick deal.

Former Republican senators Dan Coats and Connie Mack, partners at King & Spalding, began lobbying for Google in 2006, as did the mostly Democratic Podesta Group.

(An interesting overlap: Perkins Coie, the law firm which markets itself as providing “legal counsel to great companies,” has represented both Google and Microsoft.)

Google also formed its own political action committee, NETPAC, which has dished out money to both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Federal Election Commission filings to date don’t show any contributions to presidential candidates. NETPAC’s payouts in 2006-2007 totalled just $53,100, a pittance compared to the $1.3 million Microsoft made in political contributions during the same period.

Alan Davidson, former deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, heads Google’s Washington office, which is now at 1101 New York Ave., not far from K Street. (Like Googleplex west, the space includes a game room and lots of Legos.) Davidson is a computer scientist and a lawyer, as well as a lobbyist.

Political insiders working for Google now include former Clinton speechwriter Robert Boorstin; Pablo Chavez, former chief counsel to John McCain; and Johanna Shelton, former senior counsel to Rep. John Dingell.

Some results are already evident. Although the DoubleClick acquisition still awaits review by European officials, it has been approved by the Federal Trade Commission.

See Google SVP David Drummond’s blog post about the Microsoft bid for Yahoo.

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