Privacy debate ahead, Facebook adds Bush aides to lobby team

Facebook is adding two Republicans from the Bush White House to its lobby team as it gears up for the debate over consumer privacy legislation. 

Joel Kaplan, who served as deputy chief of staff under former President George W. Bush, will join Facebook on June 13 as vice president of U.S. public policy. He will report to vice president of global public policy Marne Levine.

ADVERTISEMENT
Accompanying Kaplan from the Bush White House will be Myriah Jordan, who will join the firm’s congressional relations team on June 6 as policy manager. She most recently served as general counsel to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

Cathie Martin, who had been managing Facebook’s outreach on Capitol Hill, will take a leave of absence starting in early June to tend to personal matters. There is no timetable for her return; in the interim, Jordan and public policy director Tim Sparapani will take over congressional relations.

The hiring of Kaplan shows Facebook is serious about deepening its ties on both sides of the aisle. Facebook and other Web firms are expected to lobby fiercely against the implementation of a regulatory or auditing regime for online privacy.

The announcement comes after Facebook’s attempt to hire former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to head its communications team reportedly fell apart after the impending deal was leaked to the press.

Facebook has been looking to increase its presence in Washington but has approached the expansion cautiously, adding D.C. staff at a steady pace over the past two years. 

The privately held firm is considered a desirable place to work ahead of an expected initial public offering in the coming years.

Former Bush counselor Ed Gillespie described Kaplan as a “huge asset in the policy arena,” thanks both to his “incredible” grasp of policy details and his strategic sense of the big picture.

“He’s got real gravitas,” Gillespie said of his former colleague, who served as an artillery officer in the Marine Corps. “When he gives voice to Facebook’s perspective on things, it’s going to be taken very seriously” by lawmakers in both parties.

ADVERTISEMENT
Former White House press secretary Dana Perino called the hire a “very smart move for Facebook” because of Kaplan’s tendency to anticipate problems and think several steps ahead. She praised his ability to manage a number of highly engaged stakeholders, noting that he helped the Bush administration enact the Patriot Act.

“One of the processes [Kaplan] ran for the Bush White House was the Patriot Act,” Perino told The Hill. She contrasted the political climate at the time with the recent bipartisan vote on the law’s extension on “the exact same provisions that were in the one that Bush signed, that we went through political hell to get.”

“Joel was able to bring a very diverse group of people with the administration to agree on a path forward,” Perino said. “He was able to make everyone feel like they had a piece or their voices were at least heard, that we were taking it down the right direction.”

Before working for the Bush White House, Kaplan clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; he graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review.