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With Obama's inauguration, Google sworn in as political force

January 23, 2009 |  8:19 pm

Google CEO Eric Schmidt with President ObamaWASHINGTON -- Google threw a post-inauguration party in the nation's capital Tuesday night. It had much to celebrate about Barack Obama becoming president.

As we describe in this front-page story, Google employees, including Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, threw their support behind Obama early in the campaign and now stand poised to push their agenda, which includes boosting Internet access and pushing for network neutrality. Obama's election helped make Google, which hired its first Washington employee less than three years ago, into a power player.

Given the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day, the Internet giant's coming out soiree at the grand Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium was an unusual hybrid of geek and glam (heavy on the geek).

Partygoers, one sporting a denim ball gown, live-blogged, Twittered and Facebooked the night away to '80s grooves.

A game room featured Guitar Hero and Wii. A white board was scrawled with requests for the incoming administration: "Launch more satellites," "educate the poor," "keep the Internet open, innovative and free." Hors d'oeuvres included hamburger shooters and pigs in a blanket.

The guest list was as eclectic as it was high-powered: Hollywood stars Ben Affleck, John Cusack and Jessica Alba; Obama transition team members Jon Favreau and John Podesta; Obama new-media guru and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes; and Craigslist's Craig Newmark (sans tuxedo, natch). Media superstars also made an appearance, including CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Asked why he decided to attend, former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris, who has replaced Obama in the U.S. Senate, said: "They invited me."

Observers say Google and Schmidt appear sincere in their support of the new administration, which shares many of their views. But Matthew Cooper, contributing editor of Portfolio, said that Google had no choice but to reinforce its presence in Washington with such a big splash. It has weighty policy issues that it cannot ignore, particularly after a near-disastrous run-in with the Department of Justice, which was ready to sue Google on antitrust grounds until the company abandoned its search-ad partnership with Yahoo. "There is a regulatory environment that Google has to deal with," Cooper said.

Google is already making a favorable impression on at least one lawmaker. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised the company, saying it has a more "charitable attitude and a willingness to compete" than many.

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: President Obama in this October file photo is reflected in the teleprompter as he speaks at an economic summit in Florida. Pictured, from left, are Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

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