President Obama and congressional Democrats have taken to decrying the influence of corporations in politics since the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case.
However, that has not stopped Obama’s re-election campaign from accepting more than $350,000 in donations from personnel of Google, Inc., the Internet giant whose operations and profitability have been and could be in future greatly influenced by actions the Obama administration and executive branch agencies take.
Long a champion of net neutrality, which was pushed through by the Federal Communications Commission headed by Obama’s friend Julius Genachowski, Google counts as personnel individuals who have donated a total of $357,000 thus far to the Obama re-election effort.
That is according to a CNET study of data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
According to a Bloomberg report earlier this year, Google-linked individuals have also provided assistance to the Obama campaign in other ways.
CNET has previously noted that in an attempt to exert influence in the nation’s capital, Google has been engaging more aggressively with Republicans, who typically have opposed key elements of its legislative and regulatory agenda, including net neutrality. Google sponsored a plush media lounge at this year’s Republican National Convention.
Google was recently slapped by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for surreptitiously violating its users privacy — behavior that will cost the Internet giant $22.5 million. However, in the estimate of some observers, the FTC went light on the behemoth, blocking lawsuits against Google for privacy infringement by those affected by what critics charge amounted to blatant spying on the browsing history of individuals it had previously agreed not to track.
Sen. Rand Paul, who said at a recent Heritage Foundation event that firms like Google must not be given a pass where they breach contracts or engage in misrepresentation to customers, has indicated he would like to see affected customers able to address matters like this by way of class-action lawsuits.
On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that a U.S. District Judge has allowed an opponent of the FTC-Google settlement to challenge it. At issue in that instance is the fact that the settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing on Google’s part, despite apparent violation of a previous consent decree applicable to Google by Google’s latest contractually-barred apparent misbehavior.
So while the $22.5 million fine may be a record, critics say it actually represents a lighter touch than may be deserved.
Engagement in Washington, including via campaign donations, could be part of a strategy to ensure such a light touch for Google going forward.