Google set a record for annual lobbying in 2018, spending more than $21 million to influence Washington in a year when its chief executive officer made his first appearance in Congress and scrutiny of Big Tech intensified.
The total beats the Alphabet Inc. unit’s record set in 2017, when it spent more than $18 million, according to federal disclosures. (GOOGL)Google, which spent $4.9 million in the last three months of the year, according to a Tuesday filing, usually leads the tech sector in lobbying outlays and often is among the top-spending companies overall in Washington.
The industry had good reason to up its influence game last year: It faces a so-called techlash of greater congressional and regulatory scrutiny after numerous privacy breaches and disclosures that Russia used social-media platforms to distribute propaganda meant to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Some industry critics also say it has grown too big and powerful, leading to suggestions by politicians and organizations, on the left and right, that the companies should be broken up.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai was called to testify before a congressional committee in December to answer allegations that the company’s search and news algorithms are biased against conservative opinions, a view President Donald Trump has echoed. Pichai also faced questions about privacy, antitrust, and the company’s possible use of a censored search engine to gain access to the Chinese market.
The search giant’s global policy chief, Karan Bhatia, who joined Google in June, is considering a shakeup of the Washington lobbying shop amid the backlash. He is said to have circulated an organizational chart with blank boxes for all the positions reporting to him. Google’s longtime Washington director, former Representative Susan Molinari, a New York Republican, resigned at the end of 2018, although she remains in an advisory role.
Bhatia’s challenges include responding to possible U.S. antitrust scrutiny, tough new privacy rules in California, a bipartisan congressional push for a new law to protect consumer privacy, and attempts to make tech companies responsible for the content disseminated by their services.
The massive company said it lobbied on dozens of issues, reflecting how integral its services have become to American lives and commerce. The filing cited privacy, data security, antitrust, taxes, tariffs, trade, the opioid crisis, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, autonomous vehicles, immigration, the future of work, encryption, and national security.