Despite Apple’s outsized influence on the consumer-electronics market, it is not a high-profile player in Washington, and most expect it to maintain this low-key approach under the leadership of Tim Cook, who formally succeeded cofounder Steve Jobs as CEO this week.
“It’s a company that keeps its head down, [and focuses] on its products. It’s rarely seen as a front-runner on issues,” Association for Competitive Technology President Morgan Reed, whose group represents many makers of applications used on iPhones and other Apple products, said in an interview.
“Given how strong that corporate culture has been, I don’t expect them to change. Tim Cook has been running [day-to-day] operations for the company for a while. It reflects his culture as much as it reflects Steve Jobs’.”
In an internal e-mail to Apple employees on Thursday obtained by the technology news website Ars Technica, Cook seemed to echo this point, saying “I want you to be confident that Apple is not going to change. I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values.”
Apple belongs to a few Washington trade associations, including the Business Software Alliance; the wireless-industry group CTIA; the Consumer Electronics Association; the Information Technology Industry Council; and TechAmerica. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the company plans to maintain its current approach and staff level in Washington.
Apple has a relatively small office in D.C. headed by Catherine Novelli, its vice president for worldwide government affairs. The office has fewer than a dozen people, five of whom are registered lobbyists, although it does employ about 20 outside lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, Google has about 11 in-house lobbyists and more than 60 outside lobbyists.
And Apple’s lobbying budget is dwarfed by those of some of its rivals. For example, both Microsoft and Google spent more in each of the last two quarters this year on lobbying than Apple has spent in all of 2011 so far. Apple’s total lobbying tab for 2011 is $1.35 million, while Google spent $1.48 million in the first quarter alone.
In its most recent lobbying-disclosure report, Apple reported that it had lobbied Congress and federal bodies such as the Commerce Department, Federal Trade Commission, and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on issues such as privacy, data security, patent reform, and trade.
While Apple tends to keep a low profile, Information Technology Industry Council President Dean Garfield said that should not be interpreted as a sign that it is not engaged on the issues important to the company. He and others note that Apple’s approach appears to be working given its success – it briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil this month as the world’s most valuable company – and they do not expect much change in Apple’s approach in Washington.
“They are quiet about their work,” Garfield said. “They have a highly effective policy organization in Washington. I don’t see that changing.”
Others say Apple’s low-profile approach in Washington reflects it corporate culture. “Washington policy and politics can color the way a company is perceived,” said Will Rodger, a principal at Rodger Communications who covered the tech industry for several years as a reporter. “Apple’s brand in many ways seems to exist outside of that world.”
Despite its low-key approach, Apple has found itself in the spotlight on some policy issues on occasion.
In October 2009, the company made headlines when it announced it was withdrawing from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the group’s opposition to regulating greenhouse gases. And it came under scrutiny this spring amid concerns that its iPhone and other smartphones tracked the location of its users. The company testified at hearings on privacy in May before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees.
Apple’s tendency to shun the spotlight in Washington hasn’t always worked to its advantage. Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., scolded Apple and Google last year when they declined requests to testify before his panel on children’s privacy. “When people don't show up ... it increases our interest in what they are doing and why they didn't show up. They made a stupid mistake by not showing up. I say, shame on them,” Rockefeller said at the April 2010 hearing.
Not surprisingly, both Apple and Google testified when the Commerce Committee held another hearing on privacy in May of this year.