Google Parts With Podesta Lobbying Firm as Trump Enters Washington

  • Democrat-leaning Podesta Group lost seven clients by end 2016
  • National Association of Realtors was biggest spender in Q4

After at least 12 years together, Alphabet Inc., the parent of Google, won’t be represented by one of Washington’s most prominent lobbying groups, a firm with long-standing ties to the Democratic party and Hillary Clinton.

The Podesta Group -- whose chairman, Tony Podesta, is a major Democratic fundraiser and the brother of Clinton’s former campaign manager -- is no longer lobbying on behalf of Google, public disclosures show. The change coincided with Google’s bid to hire someone for “conservative outreach,” according to a December job advertisement.

Veteran lobbyists say it’s not unusual to see such shifts after an election. U.S. companies are responding to a power shift in Washington that put Republicans in charge -- but with a president who sometimes departs from party orthodoxy on issues like taxes and trade. President Donald Trump’s practice of calling out companies for cost-overruns on government contracts and decisions to move jobs overseas has also changed the stakes for corporate lobbyists.

The tech industry in particular has a rift to bridge. Silicon Valley was a hotbed of Clinton support during the election, and several executives openly expressed concerns about Trump’s plans to curtail immigration, punish American companies with overseas operations and block possible terrorists from accessing the Internet. More than 140 tech industry executives published an open letter last summer saying Trump “would be a disaster for innovation.”

Tech Meetings

Since the election, tech leaders including Facebook Inc.’s Sheryl Sandberg, Inc.’s Jeff Bezos and Tesla Motors Inc.’s Elon Musk have met with Trump in a bid to ease tensions. Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page and chairman Eric Schmidt also attended the meeting.

“Companies have to get over the assumption of a Hillary presidency and pivot to the new world under President Trump,” John Scofield of lobbying firm S-3 Group said in an e-mail. “Big companies don’t necessarily move on a dime, and it takes a little effort for their operations to pivot to the new regime.”

Some of that shift appears to be well underway. Podesta Group, which employs lobbyists from both major parties, lost seven clients, which it had billed for $460,000 during the final four months of the year, according to the disclosures. The lobbying group took in $80,000 from Google in the final three months of 2016, according to quarterly disclosures. Podesta Group didn’t respond to a request for comment. Google spokeswoman Becca Rutkoff declined to comment.

‘Start Switching’

Citigroup Inc. terminated a relationship with Subject Matter, a mostly Democrat-affiliated lobbying firm, which lost six clients by the end of 2016, including the National Football League, totaling more than $250,000 in business. Steve Elmendorf, Subject Matter’s co-founder, said companies always make changes at the end of the year based on their legislative priorities and the composition of the congress. “It’s not unusual,” he said.

“The minute the election is over, you just have to start switching,” said Paul Miller, the president of the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics, a professional association for lobbyists. “If you’re doing your job right, that’s what you do.”

Meanwhile, the change in administration is a boon to some firms. Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, a group that lobbied for debt relief for the island, re-upped its contract with Prime Policy Group, where Charlie Black is chairman, the disclosures show. Black was previously a partner of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Roger Stone, a decades-long Trump adviser. Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosselló also hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Bloomberg News reported.

Businesses, trade associations, interest groups and the lobbyists who represent them also disclosed lobbying on issues including trade, health care, immigration, taxes and the environment, as well as the appointees who will be implementing them -- all issues that arose in the first weeks after Trump’s election.

Chemours Company, a spinoff from chemical company DuPont, offered input on appointees to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative, the disclosures showed. The National Manufacturers Association, lobbied on the transition of leadership at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates the products of many of the trade association’s members.

Some progressive, labor and civil-liberties groups -- including the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Civil Liberties Union -- said they also plan to lobby on issues related to the transition, including LGBT rights and the nomination of Representative Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

The biggest spender for the quarter was the National Association of Realtors, which reported almost $20 million in lobbying during the quarter, about $5 million more than the same period in 2015. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came in second, spending almost $19 million, up from about $15 million from the last three months of 2015. The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform also spent almost $6 million.

— With assistance by Bill Allison, and Mark Bergen

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