Google search: political power

By KIM HART, Politico

Google’s aggressive tactics have put it on top of the business world, and now the Internet giant is looking to leverage the high profile and sterling connections of its CEO to achieve similar power in the political sphere.

Google boss Eric Schmidt is one of the nation’s most politically active business leaders — a man who uses the cachet of the company he leads, as well as his own charisma, to build strategic alliances in the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill.

Schmidt, 55, grew up in Washington and returns frequently to visit his mother, who still lives in Northern Virginia. Those trips often double as chances to meet with President Barack Obama, chat with staffers at the Federal Communications Commission and meet with top lawmakers.

Schmidt’s newly formed friendships in town have helped transform Google from a D.C. outsider into an Obama administration darling with growing clout in policy circles.

But the company’s increasing influence is at risk of a Washington backlash from politicians and competitors, some of whom said Google’s vast reach is raising privacy, antitrust and other concerns.

“I’ve been concerned about Google’s role in the political system because they’ve learned how to lobby very effectively” using both traditional and nontraditional means, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “When the attention turns to them, it’s really remarkable the influence that they have.”

Schmidt has worked to forge relationships with a number of key members of Congress, giving generously to their campaigns and attending their fundraisers.

He recently hosted fundraisers for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). In June, Google hosted a National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraiser for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).

This year, he’s written $4,800 checks to both Senate Democrats from New York, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. New York, of course, is the center of the advertising industry, which is now inexorably tied to Google’s dominant online ad platform.

In 2009, Schmidt gave $1,000 each to Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and $2,400 to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), whose district includes Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

And Schmidt wrote $10,000 checks to both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Altogether, Schmidt has made $34,000 in personal donations for the 2010 elections, compared with $60,200 during the 2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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