The tech press was abuzz this week with the announced formation of the Internet Association, a new lobbying group comprised of 14 companies including Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Expedia, LinkedIn and Zynga.
press release story was carried by the Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Engaget, CNET and Wired among others. Many outlets noted that the group will focus on “piracy, copyright, privacy, and cybersecurity.”
TechCrunch also printed an editorial by Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of the new Internet Association, supporting passage of the STEM jobs Act — which has nothing to do with “piracy, copyright, privacy, and cybersecurity.” The editorial does, however, suck up to Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the author of the bill.
Some reporters rightly noted that with the formation of the new group, it looks like Google is getting the SOPA band back together. Others looked a little deeper, and saw that many in this particular constellation of companies had “repeatedly run afoul of consumer and privacy advocates as well as various governments for breaching consumer privacy,” and probably wouldn’t be lobbying for stricter privacy laws any time soon.
Ahem. Allow Bytegeist to read the tea leaves.
There are two committees currently writing most of the House legislation dealing with tech policy: Energy and Commerce, chaired by Fred Upton (uncle of Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton, who tells TMZ he is “proud of his supermodel niece”), and Judiciary, chaired by the aforementioned Lamar Smith. Because the Republicans are in the majority, both of these chairs are Republicans, as are the majority of the committee members.
If you’re unfamiliar with the committee process, that’s where all the evil and horse-trading happens. The committee markup hearings on the health care bill were held with all the decorum and propriety appropriate to a commodities trading floor, with lobbyists paying up to $4000 to firms that hired homeless people to sleep overnight on the sidewalk and guarantee them a seat.
By the time a bill gets to the floor of the House the deal is long done, and the votes are already bought and paid for. Foolishly, this is when most groups begin their activism efforts.
Google is no fool. So when SOPA was being
written by the RIAA deliberated in committee, Google unleashed a shitstorm of PR flaks and “activist” groups that came down like a ton of bricks on SOPA supporters. And as Dave Dayen, Markos Moulitsas and others noted at the time, activists moved more Republican votes than Democratic ones.
That pissed off a lot of Republicans, who felt like their hands were forced. It also pissed off the bill’s author, the aforementioned Lamar Smith, who felt like his committee’s authority was usurped. And when the chairman no likey you, all the lobbing money in the world won’t keep your interests from getting reamed.
Thus the Internet Association was formed. Who is Michael Beckerman you might ask? Well, a Republican operative who worked for the aforementioned Fred Upton as Deputy Staff Director of the House Energy and Commerce Committee until June of this year. As The Hill wrote in July:
When Beckerman announced his departure from Capitol Hill last month, Upton released a statement describing him as one of his “closest friends.”
“Michael Beckerman is a trusted adviser and confidant who helped set the tone and legislative agenda at the Energy and Commerce Committee when Republicans regained the majority,” Upton said.
The Hill and Roll Call actually wrote that Beckerman would be leaving the Hill to head the Internet Association two months ago. It apparently just wasn’t news to in the tech world until HDMK, the GOP PR shop recently hired by former NAVY Seals to criticize President Obama’s handing of Osama bin Laden’s death, told everyone that it was. (The Internet Association has HDMK “on retainer.”)
There is a one-year ban that prevents senior House staffers from lobbing the committees where they worked, so Beckerman will not be able to officially lobby Upton or anyone on Energy and Commerce until next year. (Hello, Lamar Smith!)
Fortunately, Google recently hired Stewart Jeffries, who served as antitrust counsel for Lamar Smith and the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee since 2007. So it looks like the revolving door is working well and they’ll still be able to cover their bases.
In short: the Internet Association is a group formed by Google and other like-minded companies to soothe the hurt feelings of key House Republicans who had their feathers singed on SOPA.
Hope that clears up any mystery behind an otherwise boring, anodyne press release. We’re always happy to explain the opaque ways of Washington here at Bytegeist.
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