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Google's 1Q lobbying bill hits new high of $1.48M

By Michael Liedtke
AP Technology Writer / April 22, 2011

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SAN FRANCISCO—Google Inc.'s lobbying costs are rising to new highs along with most of the company's other expenses as the Internet search leader's expansion plans and privacy breaches draw more government scrutiny.

The company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., spent $1.48 million making its points with U.S. lawmakers and regulators during the first three months of the year, according to documents filed late Thursday. That's the most money Google has devoted to government lobbying during any quarter since the company opened its lobbying office in Washington in 2005.

Google's first-quarter lobbying bill represented a 7 percent increase from $1.38 million at the same time last year. After last year's first quarter, Google spent slightly less on lobbying in each of the next three quarters.

The uptick to start the new year coincided with government inquiries into Google's $700 million acquisition of airline fare tracker ITA Software and the bungled launch of a social network called Buzz that caused some of the company's Gmail users to publicly expose their contact lists.

Google made concessions with the U.S. Department of Justice to win approval of the ITA deal earlier this month. The consent agreement included provisions for government monitoring that could open the door to a broader investigation into whether Google manipulates its influential search results to favor its own services.

The Justice Department wasn't among the agencies that Google lobbied in the first quarter, according to the statement filed with the U.S. Senate's secretary's office.

Google closed a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the Buzz complaints by agreeing to independent audits of its privacy protections every other year for the next two decades. The company lobbied the FTC about privacy issues in the first quarter.

Before settling the Buzz matter, Google had already vowed to improve its internal privacy controls last year after discovering one of its engineers had set up a system that captured e-mails and other personal data transmitted over unsecured wireless networks within range of company cars photographing neighborhood streets.

The higher lobbying bill comes amid a broader spending spree that has raised investor concerns about rising expenses eating into Google's earnings. Most of the company's increased costs are going toward giving 10 percent raises to 24,400 employees at the start of the year, hiring thousands more workers and promoting its Chrome Web browser and Android software for smartphones.

Google still isn't spending as much on lobbying as one of its fiercest rivals, Microsoft Corp., which was among the companies urging the Justice Department to block Google's ITA acquisition. Microsoft's first-quarter lobbying bill came to $1.72 million.

Congress was the main target of Google's first-quarter lobbying push. The company also directed its powers of political persuasion at the Commerce Department, the executive office of the President, the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S Trade Representative.

Besides privacy, the issues on Google's agenda included: online advertising regulation, international tax reform, wireless spectrum for high-speed Internet access, government computing needs, visa reform, trademarks and copyrights, renewable energy and censorship.

Google's registered lobbyists in the fourth quarter included Pablo Chavez, former chief counsel to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Harry Wingo, former counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee; Johanna Shelton, former counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Frannie Wellings, a former legislative assistant to former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; and Seth Webb, who has held a variety of positions for lawmakers and House committees.