Google employees contributed a total of about $1.6 million to Barack Obama’s two presidential election campaigns, making the company one of Obama’s top contributors overall.
The investment appears to be paying off: Google employees have been to meetings at the White House about 230 times, or roughly one per week, during the Obama administration, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).
That works out to a per-meeting lobbying cost of about $7,000 — a truly impressive ROI.
That’s assuming, of course, that there’s a direct relationship between campaign dollars and meetings with White House staff — something you’d have to be pretty darn cynical to believe.
As evidence against a direct correlation, Goldman Sachs ($1 million in campaign contributions), Harvard University ($1.57 million), Microsoft ($1.66 million), and the University of California ($3 million) must be wondering how to replicate Google’s success in wooing the White House. (See top donors to Obama’s 2008 campaign, and top donors to his 2012 campaign. Note that these companies themselves are not donating — rather, these totals are for contributions from those companies’ employees, or from political action committees affiliated with the companies.)
And these aren’t just sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom — Google employees were at the White House for meetings with senior staff.
By contrast, Comcast (whose employees contributed $338,000 in the most recent campaign) got only about 20 meetings at the White House.
In fact, the WSJ notes, Google spent more on political lobbying overall than almost any other big company in 2014: $16.8 million in all, versus Exxon’s $12.7 million, Microsoft’s $8.3 million — and Apple’s $4.1 million. Clearly, Google is taking Washington seriously, and the interest is being reciprocated.
The meeting stats come from visitor logs and emails reviewed by the WSJ, which has been digging into an antitrust probe by the Federal Trade Commission against the search and advertising giant. The FTC dropped its investigation in late 2012 after Google made some voluntary changes, with the unanimous support of all FTC commissioners.
But the FTC’s own staff had concluded that Google was using anticompetitive tactics and recommended a lawsuit, the Journal noted.
Google’s relationship with the administration runs deeper than mere money. Google chairman Eric Schmidt helped design a get-out-the-vote system for the Obama campaign in 2012, and personally oversaw it on election night. Google employees helped dig Healthcare.gov out of its painful and glitch-ridden launch phase. Former Google VP Megan Smith is now the CTO for the White House. And, as the WSJ notes, Obama has mentioned Google in half of his State of the Union speeches to date.
There’s more complexity to this relationship than my summary here, so I recommend you read the full WSJ story for more details.