Google Fires Several Lobbying Firms

Google has fired several of its largest lobbying firms and shuffled lobbyists and other political consultants amid a possible antitrust probe by the U.S. Justice Department, a Wednesday report said. The tech giant dumped about six of its largest lobbying firms and reorganized its lobbyists and Washington consultants, The Wall Street Journal reported. Some of the firms and lobbyists include Republican strategist Charlie Black and Off Hill Strategies LLC.

Karan Bhatia, the company’s new head of policy and government relations, has been implementing changes and evaluating Google’s influence since she joined the tech firm last summer. She reportedly asked some employees in Google’s policy department to reapply for their own jobs earlier this year. Google had employed dozens of lobby firms and lobbyists in the past. Out of all U.S. corporations, the company spent the most on lobbying in 2018 with $21.7 million, the Journal reported. It employed 100 lobbyists and nearly 30 lobby firms that year.

The upheaval comes after reports that the Justice Department is preparing to investigate Google on antitrust grounds. The company previously agreed to change some of its practices in a 2013 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which had been concerned the company could stifle competition. Today, Google still controls more than 70% of the search engine market, according to NetMarketShare.

Google has already faced three hefty fines from regulators in Europe who say the company has violated antitrust law there. Most recently, the European Union ordered Google to pay the equivalent of roughly $1.7 billion for stifling competition in the online advertisement sector. In 2018, regulators in Brussels imposed a $5 billion fine on the company for abusing the dominant position of its Android mobile operating system. A year earlier, the EU fined Google $2.7 billion for using its search dominance to favor its shopping comparison service.

Antitrust regulation has become a key issue in the U.S. and a cornerstone of presidential candidates’ platforms. Shares of Google parent company Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Apple all fell last week on reports that the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission were divvying up antitrust oversight of the four companies.

In a speech on Wednesday, the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim laid out some potential antitrust arguments against Big Tech firms and said providing low prices to consumers cannot absolve the sector of scrutiny.

Todd “Bubba” Horwitz