How Silicon Valley spends its money on Capitol Hill

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Credit: Shutterstock / Songquan Deng

Internet companies aren’t always so different from other large companies, especially when it comes to addressing the issues that affect their businesses. They open their considerable checkbooks, hire a lobbying firm or some in-house experts, and get to work trying to influence laws and regulations. A nonprofit organization called MapLight recently released a tool for tracking the lobbying activity of any company since 2008, so I decided to see where some of the biggest internet companies and legally entangled startups are trying to garner influence.

MapLight’s web tool offers aggregate spending totals for the companies, but to dig a little deeper you need to download the full data for each company. I did, and here’s what I found. I’m not sure there are any “gotcha” data points in here if you follow this space or these companies and understand their businesses, but it’s still interesting to see where they really put their lobbying resources to work.

The charts are interactive, so scroll through them to see more and to get more information on any given data point. If you want to see the raw data, I compiled all of it into a single file, which you can download here. Because they’re made using Tableau, you can also download the relevant data for each chart, as well as image files, straight from the charts themselves.

Google is the king of lobbying spend

It’s probably not surprising to see [company]Google[/company] in the lead considering how expansive the company is becoming, moving beyond web search and into telecommunications, mobile devices and aerospace. Oh, and all the antitrust and privacy lawsuits it must face around the world.

If you ever wonder just how small startups like [company]Airbnb[/company], [company]Uber[/company], [company]Dropbox[/company] and even [company]Twitter[/company] are compared with with their older peers, just look at the numbers. They’re still largely single-issue companies, not yet even big enough to try convincing the government they need more tax breaks.

When you’re big, big issues matter

Looking at the higher-level categories into which lobbying expenditures are organized, it becomes pretty clear the types of issues that keep internet companies up at night — things such as telecommunications, intellectual property, immigration (surprised?) and, yes, taxes.

More interesting, however, might be the seeing the smaller issues that are particularly important to certain companies. [company]Apple[/company], for instance, as a company that makes devices full of not-necessarily-eco-friendly components, lobbies a lot on environmental issues. It has also been trying hard to sell schools on its tablets, which might explain the number of times it lobbies on educational issues and funding.

Google does a lot of lobbying on the issue of small businesses, which might come across as surprising until you look at the specific issues it’s pushing. Namely, on topics such as “Issues regarding benefits of cloud computing and online advertising for small businesses.”

Getting down to the issues

This chart shows the top three specific issues that each company lobbied on, which gives a good but certainly not complete picture of the types of things they’ve been concerned with over the past few years. With smaller companies, such as Netflix for example, its recent fight to amend the Video Privacy Protection Act still ranks highly. The issue on of online privacy actually shows up a lot in the full dataset, although in many different line items across many different companies.

If you want even more detail into each company’s lobbying issues, check out this storyboard chart, which includes the entire list of issues for each company. It’s organized alphabetically, so use the scroll bar underneath the company names to move from left to right.

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