For anyone standing on the street with Occupy Wall Street who may think that Google’s funny name and disarming homepage doodles set it apart from the world of corporate influence, the folks at Consumer Watchdog have a message: Don’t you believe it.
If anything, the Internet search giant actually is ramping up its efforts to influence Washington policymakers in the face of a federal investigation, the nonprofit advocacy group says.
Consumer Watchdog says that Google reported it spent $5.9 million on government lobbying during the first three quarters of the year, a 51 percent increase from the $3.9 million it spent in the comparable period a year earlier. In all of 2010 Google spent $5.2 million to influence policy makers.
The organization notes that Google spokeswoman Samantha Smith offered this explanation: “We want to help policy makers understand our business and the work we do to keep the Internet open, to encourage innovation and to create economic opportunity. Lobbying is part of that process.”
Consumer Watchdog disputed that claim, pointing out that Google currently is under federal investigation, reportedly for violating antitrust laws by unfairly ranking search results to favor its own businesses and increasing rivals’ ad rates.
“The fact is the company is facing a well-deserved antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and wants to escape any consequences for its anticompetitive behavior,” says John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “They’ve got billions in profits stashed in off-shore tax havens and are pressing for a tax-holiday to bring it into the United States.”
Studies, however, have shown that the last time a tax holiday was tried in 2004 there was little impact on hiring or domestic investment. Most of the money was used by the companies bringing back profits at bargain tax rates to pay dividends or buy back stock.
“Google simply wants to buy influence. It’s the American corporate way,” says Simpson. “Google’s attempt to dress it up as an educational effort doesn’t change the stark reality.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.