The lead up to Google's antitrust hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon feels like a little bit like the aftermath to a playground fist fight. Yelp, Expedia and Nextag have been yelling to the authority figures, the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, that Google is bullying them by demoting their listings in search results. Google chairman Eric Schmidt will testify under oath and defend his company's behavior. A preview of his statements suggests he'll say that Google plays fair by making a free market-friendly argument. With a new army of right-leaning lobbyists, the stereotypically leftwing company has been taking a Republican-friendly approach to defend themselves against the antitrust accusations--kind of like a bully sucking up not just to their favorite teachers but to all the teachers. Regardless of whether they get a slap on the wrist or a free pass in the antitrust hearing, Google's finally gone bipartisan in Washington.
Reports of Google scooping up high profile Republicans started popping up around the same time that the antitrust accusations started to pick up around the world. Following the announcement of a formal investigation in Europe in December 2010, reports started to surface that Google might have some trouble with the GOP for then-CEO Eric Schmidt's ties to the Obama administration. "The pro-free-market group National Legal and Policy Center, for example, has labeled the company the Halliburton of the Obama years," The Hill reported at the time.
Faced with mounting hostility, Google went on a hiring spree, building an army of lobbyists that's noteworthy not for the prestigious pedigrees of the firms but also for their noticeable presence of some heavy-hitting Republicans. Politico reports:
The company's rightward shift this year has been unmistakable. Among its many recent GOP hires is a lobbying firm led by Kyle Simmons, former chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Rob Saliterman, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush.
"We have a strong story to tell about our business and we've sought out the best talent we can find to help tell it," a Google representative says.
In addition to the GOP hiring spree, Google has joined Republican organizations in Washington such as the Ripon Institute, said Ralph Hellman, a tech lobbyist with the Information Technology Industry Council. And Schmidt himself will travel to Florida in time to attend Thursday night's Fox News-Google GOP debate.
The Senator that Google needs to impress now is tea party leader Mike Lee, the ranking member of the antitrust sub committee. It sounds like Google gearing their talking points to be especially tea party-friendly. "Naturally we worry that governments dictating search results could make it harder for us to give people the answers they're looking for," the company recently said. Government orders that hamper business would surely be a threat to any Republican. Based on what Lee's spokesman told Politico, it's a message he can empathize with: "Sen. Lee believes that rigorous antitrust inquiry is much better suited to the preservation of free markets than inefficient government regulation and bureaucracy."
We'll see if Google manages to keep itself out of time out this time around. As we've said before, the best outcome for the search company is no outcome. In other words, they hope the teachers stay distracted so they can do whatever they want on the playground.