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Google nearly doubles lobbying spending in 2011, tops Microsoft

The Web giant, subject of both a Senate antitrust hearing and a Federal Trade Commission investigation, spent $9.68 million on federal lobbying last year.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
2 min read

Google nearly doubled its federal lobbying expenditures last year, surpassing rival Microsoft in dollars doled out to persuade legislators to consider its policy positions.

The Web giant spent $9.68 million in 2011 on federal lobbying, an 88 percent jump from 2010, according to filings late last week with the United States Senate Office of Public Records. Microsoft's federal lobbying hit $7.34 million last year, a 6 percent gain.

Neither company immediately responded to queries about their lobbying spending.

The increase in Google's spending came during a year when regulators and lawmakers ratcheted up investigations of the company's strategies and tactics.

In September, the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee held hearings looking into questions about Google abusing its power in online search. In August, the company paid $500 million to settle claimswith the Justice Department over accepting ads from rogue online Canadian pharmacies in violation of federal law. And in June, the Federal Trade Commission served Google with civil subpoenas, apparently probing the company's strategies for building its search business.

The federal filings only require general descriptions of the issues addressed by the various companies' lobbying activities, and not specific positions on those matters. The filings also don't break down the spending specific to each issue.

Google's latest filing says its lobbying spending covered everything from "regulation of online advertising; privacy and competition issues in online advertising" to "renewable energy policies." As for specific bills it has put lobbying dollars toward, the company mentions the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011, the Spectrum Relocation Improvement Act of 2011, and the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, among others.

Consumer Watchdog, a frequent Google critic, calls out Google's lobbying as being hypocritical for a company that suggests that it operates at a higher moral standard than other companies with its unofficial "don't be evil" motto.

"They've decided to play the corrupt corporate cash and carry Washington (game) like many firms such as Microsoft have long done," said John Simpson, a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog. "What sets them apart, though, is they still hold themselves out to be different from the rest."

In November, Alan Davidson, Google's top Washington lobbyist, stepped down. Davidson launched the company's lobbying efforts six and a half years earlier.

There seems little doubt, though, that Google will continue to seek out the ear of regulators and lawmakers. The company's pending $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility still needs federal regulatory approval. Rivals such as Yelp and Nextag, whose executives testified in the September antitrust committee hearings aren't likely to back down from their charges of unfair practices by Google. And the SOPA bill, which Google quite publicly opposed, is likely to reemerge in a new form.

Last year, Google spent $9.68 million on federal lobbying, an 88 percent increase. Here's how much the company spent each quarter in 2011. The United States Senate Office of Public Records