Hedging its bets, Google picks Romney backer as top Washington lobbyist

By hiring former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), a supporter of Mitt Romney, to head its lobbying team, Google is hedging its bets on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

The Internet giant already has close connections with the Obama administration. Company Chairman Eric Schmidt advised Obama during his 2008 campaign and is a frequent guest at the White House. Google employees are the third biggest contributors to Obama's re-election campaign, according to campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

But with so much at stake in legislation and policy, Google wants to be on good terms with the administration—no matter which party is in power.

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The company is coming under increasing scrutiny from government officials over privacy issues. Google, which offers its services for free, depends on targeted advertising for much of its revenue.

The Federal Trade Commission is probing whether the company has run afoul of antitrust law by engaging in anticompetitive business practices. An antitrust case against Microsoft in the early 2000’s sapped the company of resources and talent and helped pave the way for Google's rise.

Molinari, elected to Congress in 1990, gave the keynote speech at the 1996 Republican Convention and served until 1997, when she resigned to join CBS as a television journalist. 

She has stayed in Washington, working as one of the city's top lobbyists, including for her own firm, Susan Molinari Strategies.


She endorsed Romney last October and has been an outspoken surrogate for his campaign.

In a Web ad she recorded for Romney in January, Molinari, who served with Newt Gingrich in Congress, attacked the former speaker's record.

"Newt Gingrich had a leadership style that could only be described as leadership by chaos," she said. "The decisions that he would make today would be different decisions tomorrow. And a lot of the problems came from sort of the discipline that he lacked in order to get the job done."

She warned that nominating Newt Gingrich could hand President Obama a second term.

"The last time Newt Gingrich was head of the Republican Party as speaker, he became so controversial, he helped re-elect a Democratic president. I worry about the Republican Party's chances to defeat President Obama if Newt Gingrich is the nominee."

The day after the ad went online, Molinari, along with former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), slammed Gingrich's leadership in a conference call with reporters. 

Molinari's participation came at a critical time for Romney. It was at the height of Gingrich's surge and just days before the South Carolina primary, which Gingrich won. 

Under a barrage of attacks from the Romney campaign, Gingrich has since fallen behind both Romney and Rick Santorum in national polling.

Molinari has a history of antagonism with Gingrich.

Her husband, former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), was forced to give up his leadership post after he led an aborted coup to topple Speaker Gingrich in 1997. He eventually resigned from Congress.  

In her 1998 book, Molinari portrayed Gingrich as an emotional egomaniac.

But regardless of why Molinari went on the attack against Gingrich, Romney is unlikely to forget her support.

"Obviously, if Romney does win the White House, then Google would feel like it's in a very good place," Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said.