A political weather map of America would show Wall Street under a cloud, and Silicon Valley bathed in sunshine.
Over the Obama administration’s eight years, the technology industry has embedded itself in Washington. The president hung out with Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and hired the government’s first chief tech officer. At least at the lower levels of officialdom, the revolving door with companies such as Google is spinning ever faster -- as it once did with Wall Street.
Politicians have played down their connections to finance since the taxpayer bailout of 2008. No such stigma attaches to tech, for now. But as the Valley steps up its lobbying efforts, with a wish-list that ranges from immigration to rules for driverless cars, some critics warn that similar traps lie in wait: It’s not easy for the government to police an industry from which it poaches talent and solicits help with writing laws.
“If you’re trying to influence government policy on behalf of a corporate sector, it’s not better that you do it for the tech industry than for Goldman,” said Jeff Hauser from the Center for Economic Policy and Research in Washington.
Hauser heads the Revolving Door Project, which scrutinizes political appointees. Even amid mounting concern over inequality, he says wealthy tech executives and their companies are still considered cool. In other words: It may be hard to persuade people these days that what’s good for Goldman Sachs is good for America -- but it might just work for Google.
The five biggest U.S. tech companies are now the five biggest companies, period -- at least as measured by market value. And they’re flexing that financial muscle.
The tech firms spent $49 million on Washington lobbyists last year, while the five largest banks shelled out $19.7 million, data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics shows.
On the personnel front, the Campaign for Accountability, a non-profit group, studied the to-and-fro between government and Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc. It found that 183 people who worked under President Barack Obama through last year were hired by Google, while 58 headed the other way.
Google is in Washington to “help policy makers understand our business and the work we do to keep the internet open and fuel economic growth,” the Mountain View, California-based company said by e-mail in response to questions. Facebook’s goals in the capital include protecting customers, “explaining how our service works, and maintaining an open Internet and a culture of innovation,” it said in an e-mail.
There have been other high-profile moves out of Washington: former Attorney General Eric Holder this year took a job at Airbnb Inc., and David Plouffe, Obama’s one-time campaign manager, started at Uber Technologies Inc. in 2014.