Amid NSA Scandal, Tech Companies Get Closer to Washington

With evidence that their networks were compromised by the National Security Agency in 2013, tech companies focused heavily on lobbying last year, though it was far from their only issue of interest.

With evidence that their networks were compromised by the National Security Agency in 2013, tech companies focused heavily on lobbying last year, though it was far from their only issue of interest.

With a big push from leaker Edward Snowden, some of the biggest technology companies in the world got serious about lobbying in 2013.

According to a report from The Hill, tech bigwigs such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple increased their spending on lobbying, as new trade groups like the Internet Association burnished their presences in Washington. Some highlights below:

Big Tech Issues

NSA controversy: The National Security Agency’s metadata collection program, which affected a number of companies directly as they discovered that the agency had been tracking their users, was one of the biggest draws for tech firms, with Apple, Google, and Microsoft among those disclosing lobbying efforts on the issue, The Hill reported. All three companies spent millions on lobbying—Google shelling out $14 million, Microsoft paying $10.5 million, and Apple spending $3.37 million. With the exception of Google, each spent more on lobbying in 2013 than in 2012, the report said. A number of companies lobbied on privacy-related issues, such as an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act.

High-skilled worker immigration: For much of the year, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was one of the leading voices in the immigration debate, with his lobby drawing attention in the spring. The need for reform to bring more high-skilled workers into the tech sector is a main focus of the group; it spent $5 million pushing for an immigration reform bill that the Senate passed but the House didn’t. Facebook boosted its lobby spending in general from $3.8 million in 2012 to $6.4 million in 2013.

Patent reform: The Innovation Act, a measure championed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that targets so-called patent trolls, was another major advocacy issue for the tech industry. The closely watched bill, which passed the House in December, also drew a diverse array of supporters from outside the tech world.

Trends in Lobbying

Dipping in toes: Twitter may be Facebook’s biggest rival, but one thing it didn’t have until last year was a strong lobbying presence in Washington. The company spent $90,000 in lobbying in 2013, The Hill reported. Other companies that previously didn’t have ties to associations are hopping on board—Snapchat, Yelp, and ShutterFly joined the Consumer Electronics Association this week, for example.

Gaining steam: In its first full year of operation (which included the launch of a great website), the Internet Association spent $1.6 million on lobbying, according to The Hill. Representing companies such as AOL, Amazon, and Yahoo, the association focuses on economic growth, security, and internet freedom issues, among others.

Losing clout? Meanwhile, the umbrella tech lobbying group TechAmerica has struggled in the last year, with reports of employees walking out in dramatic fashion, conflict with a rival association, and precipitous membership losses—most recently the loss of industry giants IBM and Microsoft. Despite this, the group is keeping a brave face. “These changes were unexpected, but make no mistake, the member leadership of TechAmerica remains committed to TechAmerica, serving public sector members and Shawn Osborne as the president and CEO of the organization,” board chair Dennis Stolkey told FCW in November.

Facebook, led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, nearly doubled its lobbying spend in 2013. (photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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