Despite Change at Top, Apple Unlikely to Shift Low-Key D.C. Approach

n: (FILES) Picture taken January 15, 2008 shows Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs during his keynote speech at the MacWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Apple said on December 16, 2008 that its iconic chief executive Steve Jobs will not make his traditional superstar appearance at Macworld Expo in January, and that the company is dropping out of the event. AFP PHOTO/FILES/Tony AVELAR (Photo credit should read TONY AVELAR/AFP/Getty Images) Jobs resigned as Apple CEO in August 2011
National Journal
Juliana Gruenwald
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Juliana Gruenwald
Aug. 25, 2011, 12:38 p.m.

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.

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