In the wake of the Federal Trade Commission’s 2012 probe into Google’s search practices, it’s becoming clearer just how much clout the search giant has in Washington. According to visitor logs and emails obtained by The Wall Street Journal, high-ranking Google staffers, including Eric Schmidt, met with White House officials 230 times across two terms, or roughly once a week in four years. Those meetings also took place in the final weeks before the commission settled with Google, backing away from what would have been the biggest antitrust lawsuit since the Justice Department took on Microsoft in the 1990s.
The documents don’t show what was discussed in the late-2012 meetings, and the FTC insists it maintains independence as a regulatory agency. In fact, Jennifer Friedman, a White House spokeswoman, told the Journal that the administration is “cognizant that it is inappropriate to discuss issues relating to regulatory enforcement.” However, the documents help illustrate how Google has become a lobbying powerhouse in recent years, such that it was able to defeat a major antitrust investigation.
The search company is making inroads in terms of sheer influence. Rival Comcast, by comparison, currently wields a similar kind of power in government right now, as it was the only company to outspend Google’s $16.8 million in lobbying dollars last year. However, Comcast visited the Obama White House about 20 times in the last few years, paling in comparison to Mountain View’s efforts. In addition, Google employees have moved over to roles in the White House in the past, with Obama naming former VP Megan Smith as his new chief technology officer last year.
Scrutiny into Google’s practices are likely to ramp up as the year wears on. Last week, the Journal reported that, though the FTC finally settled and allowed Google to make minor concessions in its search business, the commission was deeply divided over whether or not to sue, due in large part to the company’s anticompetitive tactics.
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