Monday’s opening of Google’s new Capitol Hill office, a 55,000 square-foot space less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol, symbolizes the company’s growing political activity and nontransparent expenditures, Public Citizen said today. Google did not respond to two phone messages and an email inquiry from Public Citizen about the purpose of this office, but multiple media reports have interpreted it to be used for lobbying and political activity purposes.
Google has been the No. 2 company in lobbying spending two of the past three years, and was No. 5 last year – making it the most active lobbying company in the tech industry. At the same time, its political spending transparency lags behind the openness of other tech companies.
Google’s new office is 25,000 square feet larger than the company’s previous Washington, D.C., office, and about twice as close to the Capitol. It’s roughly the square footage of the White House. The building is at 25 Massachusetts Ave., NW. A call to the company that owns the property confirmed that Google opened its offices there on Monday.
Since 2012, Google has spent an average of $1.4 million per month on federal lobbying. Over that time, it is third in lobbying spending among all companies, right behind Northrop Grumman and General Electric. Meanwhile the CPA-Zicklin Index of the Center for Political Accountability rates its disclosure policies at 51 percent, compared to 93 percent, 89 percent and 77 percent at Microsoft, Intel and Dell respectively.
Google also is a member of or provides funds to about 140 trade associations and groups, including widely criticized groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Legislative Exchange Council. But Google does not disclose how much money it contributes to any of these groups.
A Google shareholder proposal for which Public Citizen organized support called for the company to publish an annual report detailing its policies regarding lobbying, its payments for lobbying, and its membership in and payments to tax-exempt organizations that engage in model legislation and lobbying. Not including company executives and directors, who control 62 percent of the voting shares, 34 percent of shareholders supported the proposal.
At Google’s May 14 shareholder meeting, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt responded to the shareholder proposal and related follow up questions, saying, “Let me summarize your request: We need to be more transparent. And we’ve heard that from a number of other shareholders. … Let us come back with some ideas.”
“Google’s increasing acquisition of private information and presence in our lives, along with its growing political spending, should make everyone curious to know more about how and why it’s engaging with city, state and federal governments,” said Sam Jewler, communications officer for Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch program. “Google’s commitment to open information and its ‘Don’t Be Evil’ mantra suggest that increasing its transparency would align with its values.”
Sam Jewler is the communications officer for Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch program.