For the last eight years, Google has enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Obama Administration. And the search engine giant made a big bet on Hillary Clinton, backing her hard in her presidential run.
So should Google– which has many important matters before the federal government–expect a cold shoulder from the Trump administration?
But first let’s rewind to the campaign. Google — and key Google personnel — were clearly betting on Hillary Clinton to take the White House. One of Google’s topmost executives, Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt, was one of Clinton’s top donors and was integral to her campaign. And while Google itself splits its donations —sponsoring both Democrats and Republicans –– billionaire Schmidt is one of the largest and most powerful donors to the Democratic Party.
According to documents published by Wikileaks, Schmidt was angling to be an integral part of the Clinton campaign’s technology arm before Clinton had even officially declared herself a candidate.
During the campaign, Schmidt helped to spearhead a start-up called “The Groundwork,” that provided Clinton with coding, data collection and engineering talent. The Groundwork, with its weird, Illuminati-esque logo, began billing the Clinton campaign back in 2015, and reportedly built the entire technological infrastructure underlying Clinton’s operation.
So it’s no wonder that Schmidt — one of the 100 richest people in the world according to Forbes — was sporting a “staff” badge at Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated Election Night party. His investment in her win could have meant a significant role in her transition to power — and serious influence in Clinton’s administration.
He even had his own Hillary-esque version of the “Make America Great Again” hat.
Schmidt knew his involvement could mean big returns because Hillary’s campaign wasn’t his first foray into politics. He was the #3 donor to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and the #6 donor to Obama’s 2008 campaign, and appears to have parlayed that generosity into unprecedented access for Google inside Obama’s White House.
Google used friends in the Obama Administration to position Google Wallet favorably to its competitors. When the Administration was trying to drive “payday lending” out of business, those lending companies in which Google had invested — LendUp and Lending Tree — emerged remarkably unscathed.
Google even got a friend into a key position in the Library of Congress, one that could eventually help it win a hard-fought battle over television set-top boxes that help consumers get a la cart cable — at the expense of copyright holders.
But that era is ending now, and Donald Trump’s election should have meant a swift end to Google’s insider access. After all, not only has the Republican Presidential nominee declared an end to lobbyist-infiltrated Federal departments, he’s also been a vocal and constant critic of Google, largely for its Democratic ties.
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked Google, even saying that he felt Google was “out to get him,” accusing the search engine of gaming its results to benefit Hillary Clinton, and burying news detrimental to his Democratic opponent (a charge Google denies).
On the campaign trail, he called Google a “disgrace,” and branded the search company, “very, very dishonest”. Closer to Election Day, he urged his supporters to “follow the money” to discover Google’s extensive ties to Clinton’s operation.
The feeling, at least on the part of Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, is mutual. Pichai sharply rebuked Trump’s immigration policy in an open letter posted to Medium last December, calling on Republicans and Democrats to “not let fear defeat our values.” In the days after the election, Pichai tried to soothe worried employees with a note, assuring Google that it would maintain its core values in the face of a worrying administration.
It might come as a suprise to both Trump and Pichai that Google is already working hand-in-hand with Trump’s team, helping Trump’s fledging administration establish roots in a key Federal agency.
Meet Joshua Wright, a law professor from George Mason University, who will help head up Donald Trump’s team at the Federal Trade Commission. Wright was an FTC commissioner until 2015, when he took his current job as a teacher — and as an “of counsel” lawyer at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the white shoe firm that represents Google in front of the FTC.
When Wright left the FTC, Google bemoaned that it had lost its “friend” on the body.
Wright’s work at George Mason has been largely focused on innovation — and his paper topics seem to push policies that are near and dear to Google’s corporate heart — policies such as those that support patent limitations, or oppose search engine neutrality. It’s probably no coincidence that Google donated more than $700,000 to George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center.
Wright could soon take one of two open seats on the FTC, giving Google a direct voice in consumer trade, or he could use his influence — and connections — to ensure that the two seats are filled with Google-friendly executives.
Why all the effort to court an unfriendly administration?
Tech companies have been quite busy in the last week working on plans to infiltrate a Trump White House. And Google may need Federal government allies more than most: it could be facing down anti-trust actions in the US — not unlike issues it faced in Europe. Friends on the Federal Trade Commission could go a long way toward helping Google avoid penalties.
So Schmidt may keep his money tied up for the 2020 fight, but he’ll at least be trading his knockoff red hat for a “Make America Great Again” version … for the time being.