Internet companies dominate tech lobbying

Internet companies dominate tech lobbying
© Greg Nash

Internet firms have dominated tech lobbying this year, outpacing legacy tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle, according to an analysis of disclosure records by The Hill.

Google, now part of holding company Alphabet, was the top spender among tech firms on lobbying in the first two quarters of this year. The company spent roughly $8.04 million on Washington advocacy between January and the end of June.

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Next comes Amazon, which spent $5.81 million, and Facebook, which spent $4.97 million, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“It seems as though the internet companies have decided to really invest more in Washington,” said Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center.

Oracle, which along with a subsidiary spent $4.12 million, and Microsoft, which spent $4.09 million, round out the top five tech spenders for the first half of the year. Intel, Qualcomm, IBM and Apple are also spending heavily on lobbying. So is the Entertainment Software Association, which lobbies on behalf of the video game industry.

The Hill’s list does not include telecom companies, like Comcast and AT&T, that provide the infrastructure of the internet or other media companies that often advocate on similar issues.

Lobbying spending was down at many companies in the first half of 2016 compared to the year before. Such drops are often seen in election years, when lawmakers spend much of their time on the campaign trail rather than legislating.

Tech nonetheless remains engaged with numerous policy battles in Congress and the executive branch. The prominence of web firms — compared with the last presidential election year in 2012 — reflects how they have become major players in Washington policy debates.

“We think it is important to be part of that discussion and to help policymakers understand our business and the work we do to keep the internet open and to encourage economic opportunity,” said a Google spokesperson in a statement.

Four years ago, during the last presidential election, Google also dominated lobbying spending in the tech sector. But Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Qualcomm and Siemens were also in the top five.

Hewlett-Packard, which has since been split into two companies, and Siemens both spent significantly less in the first half of 2016 than they did four years ago.

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise spent roughly $1.95 million in the first six months of the year, and HP Inc., which now contains the printer and personal computer divisions, spent $810,000. Their corporate predecessor spent $3.75 million in the first two quarters of 2012.

Other companies are on the rise.

Amazon has spent more than a million dollars more on lobbying in the first half of 2016 than it did in the same period in 2015.

That increase, which began at the end of last year, appears driven by the company’s desire for expansion in everything from delivery to online video. The company’s representatives in Washington have lobbied policymakers on regulations related to video, drones and taxes, among other issues, according to filings.

“Like a lot of businesses, Amazon has a presence in Washington and we focus on issues that matter to us,” former White House press secretary Jay Carney, now an Amazon executive, told The Washington Post in February.

Jill Kerr, a spokeswoman for the company, declined to comment on its lobbying spending.

Apple, too, has spent heavily on policy fights in recent years. The tech giant has spent roughly $2.2 million in the first two quarters of 2016, more than double the $970,000 it spent in 2012 during the same timeframe.

Apple, however, has spent considerably less in the first half of 2016 than it did in the first half of 2015. And despite being the world’s largest and most profitable company, Apple spends less on lobbying than some of its competitors.

Apple also pursues influence through other means that don’t show up in lobbying dollars. CEO Tim Cook’s relationships with politicians, for example, can help increase Apple’s political clout.

In the past, Cook has fundraised for the likes of Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Ryan: Americans want to see Trump talking with Dem leaders Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea MORE (R-Wis.) and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE and has met with Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchFinance to hold hearing on ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea Week ahead in finance: Clock ticking for GOP on tax reform MORE (R-Utah) — a vocal critic of the European Union’s decision to have Apple pay $14.5 billion in back taxes — among others.

When Apple does spend money on lobbying, it focuses on intellectual property — an area in which it has had high-profile legal battles with competitor Samsung — as well as labor reform, trade, surveillance, education and energy.

Apple declined to comment for this story.

Facebook, like Apple, has significantly boosted its lobbying spending since the first half of 2012, from around $1.6 million to roughly $4.9 million.

The social media giant put lobbying dollars into areas like surveillance and trade but also immigration legislation to grant highly skilled workers visas, something that could benefit the company and tech in general as demand for skilled software developers continues to rise.

Facebook and many other web companies have come to see Washington as integral to their success, experts say.

“Only more recently have internet companies realized policies in Washington are extremely important to them and they need to play the same game that many other corporations do to be heard,” noted Novak, of the Center for Responsive Politics.