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Googling Google: More than ever, it's become a political player

November 12, 2008 |  1:52 am

The logo of Google now becoming much more of a political player and spender in Washington and Sacramento

Google is becoming much more than the search engine that transformed the online information world.

It's become a political player, spending increasing sums on lobbying and campaign donations in Washington and Sacramento.

It's also becoming a target.

“As it grows, it looks like it's going toward a strategy that is much more like typical special interests,” said Doug Heller of Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica advocacy group challenging Google on privacy issues.

Campaign donations, he said, form “a well worn path to political protection.”

What does Google want?

In Washington, the firm spent $3 million on lobbying in the first nine months of 2008. Its stable of lobbyists includes Anthony Podesta’s firm, the Podesta Group. Podesta’s brother, John Podesta, has become one of Barack Obama’s top advisors.

Most recently, Google came under antitrust scrutiny by federal regulators for a plan, since abandoned, to combine advertising with competitor Yahoo.

Some other issues include copyright, broadband access, energy, immigration, privacy and child-pornography-related matters.

In Sacramento, Google spent $300,000 on lobbying in....

...2007 and 2008. That’s up from $200,000 in the 2005-06 legislative session.

It also donated $77,000 to California politicians this year, three times more than it's given in past years combined.

Its issues range from privacy to state regulations focused on overtime pay to workers.

In September, California lawmakers approved a measure that granted the computer industry an exemption from paying overtime to workers earning not less than $75,000.

Google’s lobbyists worked on the bill, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed it later in September. A month later, Google donated $25,000 to him. That was the largest single donation Google has given to a California politician.

Matt David, Schwarzenegger’s communications director, said there was no connection: “People contribute to the governor because they believe in his philosophy, not because he believes in theirs.”

In Washington, Google's influence appears to be rising. Chairman Eric Schmidt has become part of Obama’s economic advisory team and was among Obama's most high-profile California backers.

As The Ticket reported earlier, the firm’s employees donated at least $727,000 to Obama’s campaign, second only to Microsoft's workers in the sums given to the president-elect.

Google’s federal political action committee donated $281,000 to candidates in this cycle, up from $37,000 in 2005-06.

Obama doesn’t take money from political action committees. But his choice for chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, took $3,000 from Google’s PAC in 2007-08 for his congressional campaign committee.

Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich said the company has no control over Google employees' personal political donations “and Eric's involvement with the campaign is a personal matter.”

“As a company, Google did not take sides in the presidential campaign,” the spokesman said in an e-mail.

--Dan Morain

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