Google’s executives have become wiser about the company’s image. “The product brand was very strong,” Alan Davidson, Google’s senior policy counsel, who is a computer scientist as well as a lawyer, and who oversees Google’s Washington office, told me. “The political brand was very weak. Because we were not here to define it, it was being defined by our enemies.” He paused a moment, and added, “ ‘Enemy’ is a strong word. It was being defined by our competitors.”
The modest one-man operation in Washington has expanded considerably and now includes about thirty people, among them Robert Boorstin, a former speechwriter for President Clinton; Johanna Shelton, a former senior counsel to Representative John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Pablo Chavez, a former chief counsel to John McCain. In October, 2006, the company established its own PAC, called NETPAC, and since then it has hired three outside firms to lobby on its behalf: the mostly Democratic Podesta Group; King & Spalding, where Google works with former Senators Connie Mack and Dan Coats, both Republicans; and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which hired Makan Delrahim, the former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Bush Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.
“We’ve been under the radar, if you will, with government and certain industries,” David Drummond, a Google senior vice-president, observes. Drummond, who is based in Mountain View, oversees all the company’s legal affairs. “As we’ve grown, we’re engaging a lot more. We’ve had to put a lot more emphasis on engaging.” Google’s Washington office reports to both Drummond and Elliot Schrage, the vice-president for global communications and public affairs, who is also based in Mountain View, and one of its immediate tasks has been to address the privacy issues raised by the proposed acquisition of DoubleClick. “Privacy is an atomic bomb,” a Google executive who does not want to be identified says. “Our success is based on trust.”