The tech industry's most influential companies spent record amounts of money on federal lobbying in 2014 despite a general drop in lobbying by most tech companies. The spending was often directed at areas away from the central business of technology, and it indicates how diverse and powerful major tech companies are becoming.
Google was the top spender, plowing just over US$16.8 million into its lobbying efforts, an increase of $1 million on 2013. Its lobbying covered technology policy issues such as online advertising and data privacy but also touched on the broad range of issues it now finds important, including patents, labor issues, drones, health data, immigration and international tax reform.
Amazon increased its spending by 37 percent to $4.7 million, and Apple spent $4.1 million in D.C., up 21 percent. But the biggest increase among major tech companies was recorded by Facebook, which spent $9.3 million on federal lobbying, up 45 percent.
The increases come against a backdrop of generally lower spending on federal lobbying by the technology industry in 2014. Among 15 major tech companies tracked by Consumer Watchdog, a Los Angeles-based public interest group, tech lobbying fell 3 percent in 2014 to $116.6 million.
Microsoft, which a decade ago dominated tech lobbying, spent $8.3 million, down 20 percent, while IBM, another former big spender, put $5 million into federal lobbying, down 16 percent.
Even telecom carriers, which used to handily outspend computer and Internet companies, largely reduced spending. AT&T spent $14 million, putting it below Google for the first time, and Verizon also reduced its spending. Comcast, which is trying to convince the government to sign off on its merger with Time Warner, also spent less. It put $16.8 million into its activities, down 10 percent, also behind Google.
The increased spending by big Internet companies comes as they expand into new business areas, often occupied by incumbents and covered by regulations that hamper their ability to work as they want. For example, efforts to merge wearable technology with online health tracking are meeting a myriad of rules and laws enacted to protect patients and their data.
"They used to think they could go it alone in Silicon Valley, but they have realized they need to be in Washington, D.C., just like everyone else," said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, which tracks lobbying spending.
Smaller companies are also getting in on lobbying.
Fitbit, Sidecar, Lyft and Snapchat, which had never lobbied in Washington before, began doing so in 2014. Others, including Uber and Pandora, registered themselves as lobbyists -- a sign that they intend to increase their lobbying activities in the future.
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is [email protected]