The three rising giants of tech all spent heavily on K Street in the first quarter of the year, marking perhaps a permanent change in the hierarchy of Silicon Valley’s profile in Washington. Google and Facebook both spent close to record-breaking amounts on federal lobbying, Amazon.com smashed its previous quarterly record — and all three surpassed first-quarter spending by Microsoft and Oracle, two high-tech names that have reliably dominated the industry’s outlays on K Street.
Google, the search giant whose lobbying has sprawled into every corner of Washington as it has expanded into new ventures, spent $5.47 million on federal lobbying in the first three months of 2015 — awfully close to the record $5.5 million it paid out in the second quarter of 2014 and more than it has spent in the first quarter of any year, including 2012, when it posted $5.41 million in payments. That was Google’s biggest year so far, with a total of $18.2 million spent on lobbying. This quarter’s big tab in D.C. accompanies the company’s recent spending spree on lobbyists across the Atlantic, where the EU recently announced antitrust charges against it.
Amazon.com, which has also been reaching from its original core business into television content, phones, delivery via drone and other areas requiring interaction with regulators, also had a huge first quarter. The Seattle company spent $1.9 million, more than twice what it has spent in any other first quarter and more than its previous biggest quarter, the final three months of 2014.
Facebook spent $2.44 million — not a record first quarter for the social media company, but still its fourth highest quarter of all time. In the first quarter of last year, Facebook spent $2.7 million, and in the first quarter of 2012 and the third quarter of 2014, it paid $2.5 million for federal lobbying.
The numbers posted by the three companies all take on added significance when compared to those of the more traditional high-tech firms, like Microsoft and Oracle, both of which are older companies that have maintained large presences in Washington for years.
Neither of them are packing up and leaving Washington, but both spent less than the three newcomers.
Microsoft spent nearly $1.9 million in the first quarter, its lowest total for a first quarter since 2012, and much lower than the $2 million it spent in the first quarter of last year or $2.5 million spent in the first three months of 2013. Similarly, Oracle spent close to $1.3 million so far this year, a significant amount by most measures — except that it’s the lowest level of quarterly spending by the company since 2010, and by far its lowest first-quarter spending since that year.
A variety of issues could be driving the rise in the spending by Google, Facebook and Amazon.com, including the recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission on net neutrality, which all three companies mention or allude to in their first quarter filings. It’s impossible to say how much of each company’s lobbying expenditures were devoted to any particular topic, like net neutrality, but all three also listed a myriad of other thorny issues, like immigration, tax law, intellectual property and internet security and privacy as key topics of interest.
Despite the strong showing by Google, Facebook and Amazon.com, other companies, including some which definitely had an interest in the net neutrality fight, did not show a significant bump in spending. Netflix, a company highly invested in the net neutrality issue, only spent $330,000, or the same amount it spent in each of the two final quarters of 2014. Twitter, which may face many of the same internet security and privacy concerns as Facebook, listed just $90,000 in lobbying expenses for the first quarter.
Russ joined the Center in March 2012 as the money-in-politics reporter. His duties include reporting for OpenSecrets Blog and assisting with press inquiries. Russ has a background in investigative journalism, having worked as a reporter for the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, and he spent five years as a newspaper reporter in New Hampshire. He has a degree in political science from Muhlenberg College and a M.A. in journalism and public affairs from American University.
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