How Technology Companies Lobby the Federal Government

4 min read
  • Government
  • Information Technology

If you think all companies that lobby the United States government are military contractors or oil companies, you might be surprised. Many major technology vendors are high up on the list. And the quarterly lobbying reports for the federal government, which just came out, are always fascinating reading.

“Section 209 of HLOGA requires the Secretary of the Senate to make all documents filed under the [Lobbying Disclosure Act], as amended, available to the public over the Internet,” notes the U.S. lobbying website, which enables you to search either for reports matching specific parameters, such as vendor, issue, time period, and so on, or to download the entire database. Reports typically come out on the 22nd or so of the month after the quarter ends. Reports for the most recent quarter were turned in last month.

A number of major computer industry household names spend millions of dollars every quarter attempting to influence the U.S. federal government. Their goals tend to focus less on persuading government agencies to buy their products, and more on issues that affect their business.

Organizations such as follow the lobbying reports and track these issues. Many of the technology firms’ lobbying goals are similar. In particular, a number of technology companies, most notably Microsoft, lobby on immigration issues.  “Silicon Valley is putting its collective weight behind the push for immigration reform in hopes of securing passage of legislation that would help companies hire more highly skilled foreign workers who earn degrees in the United States,” explains Hillicon Valley, the technology blog for the Congressional newspaper The Hill. “Facebook has been active in lobbying Congress to pass bills that would free up more green cards for highly-skilled workers and increase the annual H-1B visa cap. The social network company lobbied in the last quarter on the Senate Gang of Eight’s sweeping immigration bill, the tech-friendly I-Squared Act in the Senate, and Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) high-skilled immigration bill.”

On the other hand, some companies’ issues are different. For example, Google’s top three issues are telecommunications; copyright, patent, and trademark; and labor, antitrust, and workplace.  In comparison, Facebook’s are immigration, taxes, and computers and information technology, most likely because the company has come under fire for taking advantage of tax breaks. The tax issue on which Facebook has most lobbied is S 268, the CUT Loopholes Act, which is intended to keep companies from offshoring profits. Lobbyists for Facebook are also tracking children’s online privacy rules, reforming an email privacy bill, cybersecurity, corporate tax issues and interest in Do-Not-Track online legislation, while Google worked in the last quarter on regulation of online advertising, cybersecurity, privacy and data security, Hillicon Valley continues.

The top lobbying issue for both Apple and Amazon is reforming the tax code. Unlike Apple and Facebook, however, Amazon is playing a major role in lobbying for vendor collection of Internet sales taxes. Apple’s second and third major focus areas are telecommunications and copyright, patent, and trademark – likely because its lawsuit with Samsung, with which Google is also involved. Amazon’s other two issues are copyright, patent, and trademark, but also consumer product safety — presumably because it wants to limit its liability should someone order a product from Amazon that hurts them.

Generally, most tech companies spent more on government lobbying this year than last, though less than the previous quarter. This is typical, because most companies focus their lobbying attentions when Congress first comes into session, noted the AllFacebook blog.

Here are some of the tech industry’s largest lobbyists by spending, according to Consumer Watchdog:

  • Google’s spending — though it topped all other technology vendors, with $3.36 million — declined 14 percent from the record level of 2012 when it spent $3.92 million in the second quarter, Consumer Watchdog notes. During that year it was facing an antitrust investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Verizon, second to Google, spent $3.24 million, a decrease of 17 percent from $3.94 million last year –almost matching AT&T’s $3.74 million, an increase of 7 percent from $3.48 million
  • Microsoft spent $2.96 million on its lobbying efforts, a company record, and up 47 percent from $2.01 million the previous year.
  • IBM spent $1.9 million, an increase of 90 percent from $1 million in 2012.
  • Oracle spent $1.66 million, an increase of 13 percent from $1.47 million in 2012.
  • Facebook spent $1.06 million, a 10 percent increase from $960,000 the previous year.
  • Amazon spent $860,000, an increase of 25 percent from $690,000 in 2012.
  • Apple spent $690,000, an increase of 47 percent from $470,000 in 2012.

One issue that didn’t come up much? The Foreign Intelligence Secrets Act (FISA), which is the law that the National Security Agency has been using to justify its search for foreign suspects’ Internet communications. “Only two of those tech leaders — Facebook and Microsoft — even mentioned the related laws in their latest lobbying reports,” Politico notes. It will be interesting to see how that changes in the next quarter.

Want to learn more about how state and local governments can benefit from deploying process automation solutuons, and advocate for their funding? Read the industry brief: The Future of Workflow Automation in State and Local Government”.

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