Google Had Unusually High-Level Access To The White House During Antitrust Probe

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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Google had access to top-ranking White House staff far outside the norm in 2012, while the company was the subject of an antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, White House visitor logs and emails obtained by The Wall Street Journal show.

Those meetings included discussions between Google co-founder Larry Page, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, chief Google lobbyist Johanna Shelton, Google General Counsel Kent Walker and Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond.

The collection of top-tier Google reps met with high-level White House staff including former interim chief of staff and White House counselor Pete Rouse, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, then-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

Many of the meetings occurred within days or hours of one another in November and December of 2011 and 2012, while the FTC was wrapping up an investigation into a swath of anticompetitive behavior by Google. The subsequent report concluded the company’s actions “resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation,” and “significant harm” to Google’s competitors. (RELATED: This Is Why The FTC Wanted To Sue Google For Anticompetitiveness)

Despite the report’s recommendation that the FTC file a lawsuit against Google for the violations, which would have been the highest-profile since the one that broke up Microsoft in the ’90s, all five FTC commissioners eventually voted against the suit after Google agreed to some concessions.

During the 2012 election cycle, Google became the second-largest donor to President Obama, and on election night in November, Schmidt personally oversaw custom voter-turnout software for the president. In January 2013, the commission uncharacteristically went against the recommendation of the staff report and closed the probe — a decision the agency had made by the end of November, according to emails obtained by the Journal.

In 2013, Google reportedly spent $16.8 million on Washington lobbying, second only to Comcast. Google has logged about 230 meetings with White House staff since Obama entered office, an average of one per week.

“One top lobbyist at Google, Johanna Shelton, has had more than 60 meetings at the White House,” the Journal reports. “In comparison, employees of rival Comcast Corp., also known as a force in Washington, have visited the White House a total of about 20 times since Mr. Obama took office.”

A number of former Google personnel have gone on to secure high-level jobs at the White House themselves, including former Google executive and vice president of Google X Megan Smith — now chief technology officer at the White House — and Alexander Macgillivray, a former Google legal counselor who was appointed alongside Smith in 2014.

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