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Several tech companies boosted their spending on Washington lobbyists last year, despite congressional gridlock that left Silicon Valley priorities unresolved.
Ten tech firms, including Google, Amazon, Intel and Facebook, spent a combined $61 million on lobbying last year, according to Consumer Watchdog, a consumer group which compiled the data from disclosure forms released this week. That’s up almost 16 percent from last year, even though Google actually cut spending by $4 million.
Google spent $14.1 million on lobbying last year, down from $18.2 million the year before. The drop was most likely related to the company settling early last year a 2011 Federal Trade Commission antitrust suit. Despite the cutbacks, the company still spent more than any other tech company on lobbying last year, records show.
“Technology issues are a big part of the current policy discussion in Washington,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “We think it is important to be part of that discussion and to help policymakers understand our business and the work we do to keep the Internet open and to encourage economic opportunity.”
Despite the extra spending by Facebook and others, it’s not clear what the companies got for their investments.
An effort to overhaul U.S. corporate tax rates got sidelined last year, as did comprehensive immigration legislation, which has been a major focus on Silicon Valley companies interested in increasing the number of visas for foreign-born engineering talent. Legislation to curb so-called “patent trolls” remains unfinished — although the House overwhelmingly passed a version of the bill in late December, which provided some momentum for further action this year.
As the Center for Responsive Politics noted yesterday, overall lobbying spending by several top lobbying groups declined last year. Companies cut back as it became clear major legislation wouldn’t pass in a Congress distracted by budget disagreements and continued fighting about the Affordable Care Act.
Tech companies (with the exception of Google) traditionally don’t spend as much money lobbying lawmakers and federal regulators as other industries, most notably phone and broadband providers.
That’s partly because Silicon Valley companies have operated in an environment which hasn’t been heavily regulated.
That trend continued in 2013, as Google continued to be the only tech company coming anywhere close to spending as much as phone and cable companies with grateful Washington lobby firms.
Comcast Corp., spent $18.7 million on lobbying last year, financial disclosure forms show. That’s up about a quarter from the $14.75 million the cable giant (which owns NBC, an investor in Re/code) spent in 2012.
AT&T Inc. spent $15.94 million last year and Verizon Communications clocked in with $13.44 million in lobbying spending, financial disclosure forms show.
Spending isn’t expected to drop this year, either by Internet providers or tech companies.
Lawmakers are threatening to begin rewriting the U.S.’s telecom laws, which haven’t been updated in 18 years. That’s an issue that could affect a large part of Silicon Valley because it touches on regulation of not just phones, but wireless services, pay-TV and broadband lines.
The continuing fight over net neutrality rules, which were struck down by a federal appeals court earlier this month, may also prompt more spending by Internet companies hoping to convince regulators to take another shot at crafting rules which will withstand legal scrutiny.
Liz Gannes contributed to this report.