Google. The search engine empire has dominated the internet for years and has gotten so big that it became its own phrase. When one searches something online, they “google” it. If you haven’t heard of or used Google products, and I mean this sincerely, how did you find this post? Because Google is everywhere. And if you live in Kansas City or any other city where Google Fiber is rolling out, it’s an especially ubiquitous presence. You cannot drive down the highway without seeing “bunny rabbit” cars and billboards saying “hi” to you.
Unfortunately, recent revelations make it clear that that power is being used to bend the law in Google’s favor.
There is little doubt about Google’s political affiliation, according to the Wall Street Journal. Google’s employees contributed 1.6 million dollars to president Obama’s re-election bid, which made Google one of President Obama’s largest contributors. What was the result of such massive contributions? 230 visits to the White House by Google employees. Or roughly one visit a week. Google’s top lobbyist, Johanna Shelton, visited the White House 60 times!
While those donations may sound unreasonable, they aren’t illegal. Corporations have the right to donate, and so do their employees. Lobbying is nothing new. These things have happened under many different presidents, and what Google did was pretty standard for a big company. The number of visits to the White House was high, but as long as no laws were broken and no foul play is found, the friendship between Google and President Obama is fine…
…Unless Google used its relationship with President Obama and the White House to throw off a federal investigation into its operations, of course.
According to the Washington Times, a report was discovered that detailed over 160 pages of an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission of Google on the basis of anti-trust laws. (WSJ’s original report is here, behind a pay-wall.) After its investigation, FTC staff brought a case against Google–which the FTC’s commissioners promptly voted unanimously against accepting. Who appoints the chair of the FTC? President Obama, who had received an incredible amount of donations and support from Google in the exact same month the commission chose to do a 180 and vote against pursuing the lawsuit.
This is not the first time Google has had an investigation into its close relationship with the White House. In 2010, a watchdog group had written to Congress claiming the relationship between Google was too close, and that this closeness had resulted in favoritism to the internet giant. The FTC had given Google a pass in 2010 on its privacy policies, even though companies like Twitter and Sears had gotten fined for those same kinds of policies. The letter read that these actions, when “looked at in the context of this Administration’s extraordinarily close relationship with Google, [show that] no fair-minded person could look at the record so far and not believe that further investigation is warranted.”
Of course, this watchdog was speaking in the context of Google’s first FTC investigation. Now we know that there have been two.
The Obama-Google Relationship
Google and the White House scoff at any connection between massive Google donations to President Obama and the dropping of the charges against the massive Google infrastructure. Yet the FTC refuses to reveal the rest of the report they mistakenly revealed in part. The donations could be a mere coincidence and Google quickly implemented the FTC’s rules. But how can we know Google is innocent if the FTC keeps the report a secret?
Google continued swinging back against these accusations, making two primary claims. First, the company points out that five of those visits by Google employees was one employee volunteering to fix the Obamacare website. This argument, if anything, could possibly incriminate Google further. During an FTC investigation, an employee just happens to volunteer their free time to help President Obama with one of his administration’s largest blunders. One is free to volunteer their services anywhere they want, but the timing does beg the question of whether that was wholly a compassionate coincidence.
Google’s second defense is laughable: “Microsoft visited 270 times!” That’s a completely worthless argument as to whether Google was nefarious in its politicking. Just because someone else is allegedly “cozier” with the White House doesn’t change the fact that Google’s employee’s were fixing the Obamacare website and visiting the White House during an active investigation of their company. Nor does it change the fact that the case was completely and unanimously dismissed after these visits. We know all this from the report that was accidentally revealed partially–and won’t be revealed fully!
There is another way to test Google’s claim that they are free of any nefarious activities: observe other aspects of the Google-White House paradigm and see if there are connections. A few suggestive indicators do pop up.
In the 2015 State Of The Union address, President Obama gave “shout outs” to six companies, three of which are “providing jobs” in ways that companies couldn’t have 20 years ago, and Google was mentioned. In fairness, Google is an impressive company. However, Obama mentioned them in 2014 as well. If you have an hour to address the entire country and you mention anybody, that’s a sign you are recognizing them. If you do it two years in a row? That’s not insignificant.
There’s also the swapping of staff between Google and the White House. It’s not uncommon for think tanks and news companies to get jobs in the White House, but it is rarer for tech companies to get that same kind of access. The number two tech staffer in the White House came from Google, and Google also purchased President Obama’s tech team from his campaign. That’s definitely evidence of a strong relationship. Further, a former Google executive also accepted a position as head of the patent office. It makes sense, as Google frequently deals with patents, but it builds the case on the intimate relationship between Google and the White House.
Some staffers, like Andrew McLaughin, have abused the Google-White House relationship. Breitbart details that the man worked for Google, then went to work for the President, and used his email and resources at Google to spin away negative press attention. After getting in trouble, he returned to work for Google.
There is also evidence that, in 2012, Google had a special advertising program they had developed exclusively for the President. When Republican senators asked for a chance to use the same program for advertising, they were told in an email that it was a “special deal” for the President. This report was later denied. Again, this is not an illegal practice. But it does emphasize that there is a very special relationship between the president and Google.
Google, the FTC, and Net Neutrality
Fast forward to 2015, and there was this bizarre turn of events. In February of this year, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook snubbed President Obama openly over lunch due to government privacy concerns. It was a public, embarrassing moment between Google and President Obama. Yet two weeks later, during the great Net Neutrality push, Google was given its own special “tweaks” for the plan “last minute.” Wheeler, head of the FCC said these changes needed to take place. And who appointed Wheeler? President Obama.
Net Neutrality, the huge set of new FTC regulations that turns the internet broadband into a public utility, opened up the internet to scrutiny by the government in the same way that radio airwaves are scrutinized. The White House heralded the new laws by the FCC as a great success for freedom. But all that it really does is provide a way for the government to control and regulate internet services. Yet there were a couple companies that were able to retain their complete monopolies over the internet in this decision. Netflix, Yahoo, and of course, Google.
What better force to keep Google in its prime spot as internet giant than the White House that now regulates America’s internet?
Less than a week after Net Neutrality was voted into law by the FCC, Google decides its time to start filtering its popular search engine not by the popularity of the websites, but by “facts” as determined by Google. This of course would be impossible to do neutrally and fairly. But at this point, if there is any question as to whether Google is trying to be fair, it seems unlikely. I don’t think it will take much convincing to assume that liberal policies will show up in a much “fairer” light than conservative positions.
Why Google’s Dirty Laundry Should Be Aired
Big corporations having close connections to politicians in Washington isn’t news. Google is a massive company that wants to have its voice heard in government, and its efforts to exert influence are completely legal and understandable. Where there begins to be a problem is when Google utilizes its political connections to dodge two investigations and keep a leg up on its competition. Using lobbying to avoid regulations that affect everyone else is wrong. Donating money to get an investigation to go away is criminal. These are unfair practices that result in monopolies and crony capitalism, all of which hurt the taxpayer in the end.
If Google is innocent of any crimes, than let the FTC prove it. Release the rest of the report and let the American people see, through transparency, that Google has been forthright. Hiding possible evidence and then claiming innocence on behalf of the accused is paradoxical. The American people deserve to know whether or not the law is being broken in the White House.