Google’s Increased Lobbying Belies Cut in Total Spending

Google Inc., subject of a U.S. antitrust investigation, increased its lobbying costs by 88 percent to move into the top 10 of spenders seeking to influence the federal government even as the total price of persuasion declined for the second straight year.

Mountain View, California-based Google spent $18.2 million last year, including $1.7 million by its Motorola Mobility subsidiary acquired in May. That was up from $9.7 million in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks lobbying expenditures aimed at lawmakers, the White House and federal agencies.

Other technology companies such as Facebook Inc., which has had to confront concerns over privacy, also ratcheted up their lobbying. Facebook spent $4 million in 2012, up from $1.4 million a year earlier.

Total spending on lobbying fell to $3.28 billion last year, compared with $3.33 billion in 2011 and $3.52 billion in 2010.

“It’s a continued slide, but there are industries that are ramping up, like the tech industry, where some companies are opening up shops and some are expanding,” said Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics.

Novak suggested that the total decline in 2012 lobbying spending reflects partly the economy and partly that in an election year, “Congress wasn’t doing very much.”

Northrop’s Spending

Even so, the National Association of Realtors almost doubled its expenditures to $41.5 million from $22.4 million, and Northrop Grumman Corp. spent $17.5 million, up from $12.8 million in 2011.

Northrop Chief Executive Officer Wes Bush has called on the U.S. to relax export restrictions that prevent overseas sales of drones like Global Hawk, one of the issues the company reported lobbying on.

“As a leader in global security, Northrop Grumman believes it is important to participate in the democratic process at the federal, state and local level,” said Randy Belote, a spokesman for the Falls Church, Virginia-based company. “The primary goal of our activities is to provide information to decision-makers.”

Northrop, like other defense companies, faces across-the-board defense-spending cuts of $45 billion through September unless President Barack Obama and Congress agree by March on an alternative way to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Defense Spending

The biggest plunge in defense spending in four decades brought the U.S. economy to an unexpected standstill in the fourth quarter, with the Commerce Department reporting today that gross domestic product dropped at a 0.1 percent annual rate.

Among companies cutting lobbying expenditures, ConocoPhillips, the largest U.S. independent oil producer, decreased its spending to $3.9 million in 2012 from $20.6 million in 2011. Daren Beaudo, a spokesman for Houston-based ConocoPhillips, said the company changed its method of reporting lobbying expenses.

Lobbying costs by health-care companies and medical practitioners including doctors and nurses, which reached $505.7 million in 2011 -- more than for any other industry -- declined to $478.9 million in 2012.

Google’s Push

Google helped scuttle anti-piracy legislation in the last Congress, and is organizing an effort to limit government access to digital communications. Early last year, Google hired as its chief lobbyist former Representative Susan Molinari of New York, the keynote speaker at the 1996 Republican National Convention.

“Technology issues are a large part of the policy discussion in Washington these days,” said Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman. “It is important to help people understand our business and the work we do to keep the Internet open and encourage economic opportunity.”

The Federal Trade Commission voted Jan. 3 to close a 20-month investigation into whether Google favored its own services in results provided by its search engine, the world’s largest. Google also settled FTC allegations it misused patents owned by Motorola Mobility to thwart competitors in smartphone technology.

Google bought Motorola Mobility Holdings for $12.4 billion. The company is embroiled in patent-infringement litigation with iPhone maker Apple Inc. over features in smartphones.

GE Tops List

Google’s fourth-quarter net income rose 6.7 percent to $2.89 billion, or $8.62 a share. Its fourth-quarter profit, excluding certain items, rose to $10.65 a share, beating analysts’ estimates.

General Electric Co., based in Fairfield, Connecticut, was the biggest corporate spender on lobbying, as it was in 2011 and 2010. It reported $21.1 million in lobbying expenses in 2012, down from $26.3 million the year before.

“GE is a large industrial and technology company with broad interests that impact health care, transportation, consumer products, energy, finance and many other industries,” said a spokesman, Seth Martin.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce again spent more than any other entity. The largest U.S. business lobby and its affiliate spent $135.5 million, up from $65.8 million a year earlier.

There was no immediate comment from the office of the realtors’ association.

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