When Google opened its D.C. office three years ago, it oozed Silicon Valley hipness. A party to herald its arrival, held in its swanky New York Avenue digs, served YouTubes—vodka cranberry shots served out of test tubes—to Washington power players enjoying the nightclub vibe. The message: Google was going to handle Washington on its own terms, not the other way around.
Unlike some of its rivals, it wasn’t going to play the Washington game. The online-search giant didn’t need hordes of high-priced lobbyists representing it. That was for lesser brands. Former CEO Eric Schmidt essentially said as much a couple of years ago, when he acknowledged that his industry lacked traditional lobbying firepower. What’s more, Schmidt didn’t seem to care. “The part of politics in Washington that’s ‘who you know’ and all that kind of stuff, it’s just not very interesting,” he told The Washington Post then.
But by the time Schmidt, now Google’s executive chairman, stepped in front of the Senate Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee this week, the company’s swagger had been replaced by the clatter of lobbyists scurrying along the marble hallways on Google’s behalf. Even Schmidt himself got into the act, meeting committee members ahead of Wednesday’s hearing to examine the company’s business. A congressional hearing and a federal antitrust probe have transformed the onetime start-up into a serious, corporate Washington player. And it has all the trappings to prove it.
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