Political Giving and Willingness to Cave to Law Enforcement

When Jason Leopold linked to a WSJ report titled, “Obama breaks bread with Silicon Valley execs,” I quipped, “otherwise known as, Obama breaks bread w/our partners in domestic surveillance.” After all, some of the companies represented–Google, Facebook, Yahoo–are among those that have been willingly sharing customer data with federal law enforcement officials.

Which is why I found this Sunlight report listing lobbying and political donations of the companies so interesting.

Lobbying (2010) Contributions to Obama (2008)
Apple $1,610,000.00 $92,141.00
Google $5,160,000.00 $803,436.00
Facebook $351,390.00 $34,850.00
Yahoo $2,230,000.00 $164,051.00
Cisco Systems $2,010,000.00 $187,472.00
Twitter $0.00 $750.00
Oracle $4,850,000.00 $243,194.00
NetFlix $130,000.00 $19,485.00
Stanford University $370,000.00 $448,720.00
Genentech $4,922,368.00 $97,761.00
Westly Group $0.00 $0.00

Just one of the companies represented at the meeting, after all, has recently challenged the government’s order in its pursuit of WikiLeaks to turn over years of data on its users: Twitter. And the difference between Twitter’s giving and the others’ is stark.

Does Twitter have the independence to challenge the government WikiLeaks order because it hasn’t asked or owed anyone anything, politically?

Mind you, there’s probably an interim relationship in play here, as well. Those companies that invest a lot in politics also have issues–often regulatory, but sometimes even their own legal exposure–that they believe warrant big political investments. Which in turn gives the government some issue with which to bargain on.

Maybe this is all a coinkydink. And maybe having broken bread with Obama, Twitter will cave on further government orders.

But I do wonder whether there’s a correlation between those telecommunication companies that try to buy political favors and those that offer federal law enforcement favors in return.

  1. BoxTurtle says:

    But I do wonder whether there’s a correlation between those telecommunication companies that try to buy political favors and those that offer federal law enforcement favors in return.

    Do you also wonder if the Sun is going to rise in the east everyday?

    Boxturtle (An honest politician is one that stays bought: Simon Cameron, financier & politician (1799 – 1889))

  2. PeasantParty says:

    Does Twitter have the independence to challenge the government WikiLeaks order because it hasn’t asked or owed anyone anything, politically?

    I don’t know about the independence but I hope they have the integrity to not be beholden to the whims of stupid politicians. I think that users will get a great deal of anger worked up if they fall for the demands.

    Also, if you thought the 3 month extention of the Patriot Act put a lid on the cyber spying stuff the NSA and CIA wanted, think again. Take a look at this demand:


  3. Argonaut says:

    Could you be more specific on the Stanford figures? Is this money from people at Stanford or from the university itself? Or from the Hoover Institute?

    • Argonaut says:

      Replying to myself – I should have followed the links you gave. Interesting to see that the Stanford lobbying money was comparable to other universities and was in the Education category, not “tech companies” as the Sunlight headline says, and that as far as I could see the contributions to candidates are from PACs or from university employees (who by rule must list their employer) and contributions to the DNC were direct from the university. I have no idea how the Obama 2008 stuff breaks down because I couldn’t find it in 10 minutes of searching.

      But, the Stanford president’s op-ed in the current issue of Stanford Magazine includes the meme that we should cut Social Security in order that other departments, such as DOD, might continue on unhindered. This is in the guise of a plea for more university R&D money, but underneath it is pure corporatism.

  4. puppethead says:

    The front page headline on this is “Obama’s Silicone Valley Meeting Highlights Links Between Political Giving and Willingness to Cave to Law Enforcement”. Silocone Valley would be Los Angeles, I’d think. The tech giants are in Silicon Valley.

  5. Synoia says:

    Silocone Valley would be Los Angeles, it would be Silicone Valley, abd that’s the San Fernando Valley.

    Or the Beverly, Symetriccal, Hills.

  6. marksb says:

    Twitter was new and bright–and poor–in 2008. I wouldn’t connect any dots between their contributions then and what may happen over the next two years, though the lack of lobbying $ expended last year is encouraging…but that may be just because it’s early in their TechCorp growth curve.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yeah, I agree, it’s probably as much about business development stage as anything else, though the lobbying is noteworthy.

      But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that as telecoms (broadly defined) grow, they become more and more intertwined w/the federal govt, making them (in matters of surveillance and dependency on fed funding) just another branch of the govt.

      And we don’t have to guess that the govt is trying hard to do that to Twitter now–the HBGary emails make that pretty clear.

        • marksb says:

          I would guess that Twitter is #1 on the list of TechCorps to compromise. It’s evident that there is unimaginable power here for revolutionary uprising worldwide…and that’s dangerous to our Lords And Masters. On On-Point (NPR) a moment ago the point was made that the largest protest in the world yesterday was in Madison WI. Heh. Twitter has power.

  7. jedimsnbcko19 says:

    a real democratic president would have sit down and had lunch with the good people of Madison WI,

    not old OBAMA, he is having lunch with the top 2%

    these people also spy on real Americans

    • onitgoes says:

      these people also spy on real Americans

      Yes, and outsource most of their jobs to third world countries. Duly noted that Barack Hussein Obama is “doing lunch” with the greedy wealthy powerful and connected in CA, rather than backing up the union workers in WI and across the mid-West. Duly noted. Figures.

      • PeasantParty says:

        He may be discussing how we can export some jobs to Korea in return for some designer jeans at discount prices. Or maybe another fruit to go into our fruit salad.

        • onitgoes says:

          Something like that, I’m sure, but I’m equally sure that Barry Zero has his hand out and is expecting the Silicon Valley nabobs to cross his palm with silver. Screw the workers, Barry – eh? You’re out there today getting yours, eff the unionized/gov’t workers in WI and the mid-west (and elsewhere)!

          Wake up, sheeples… this is our “dear leader,” and this is how he “rolls” with the rich and famous.

          • PeasantParty says:

            Hopefully they will remember how the NeoCons and WallSkreeters caused them and their operations to bust.

            I don’t know. It is either about re-election support or getting the trade going with out of the country. I’m not convinced he actually wants Americans at work. If he really did want that, he would have instituted a TVA or WGA program and set our economy back on a growth path.

            Millions of unemployed or under employed does not make a good revenue haul for Washington.

  8. Watt4Bob says:

    The internet is obviously a double-edged sword, and I would expect the full-court-press to blunt ‘our’ edge is going to continue to gain momentum.

    Apple for instance, is nearly as revered by the ‘creative-class’ as Reagan is by the barberous rich, but it is becoming more and more clear that ‘our’ favorite gizmos are delivered by a system that relies on sweat-shop labor like any other flat-earth corporation.

  9. ToyotaBedZRock says:

    These companies hire in America. Intel moved factories back to America.

    That is why he is there, because every other business is playing games.

    They also want a tax holiday which is kinda bad but hopefully he will get a job guarantee for them bringing their money back to America.

    • onitgoes says:

      I hope you’re right, but I’m not all that convinced. However, I haven’t done my homework. I just know of too many of those Silicon Valley companies who started out hiring almost strictly H1(B) visa third world workers, allegedly bc there weren’t enough “qualified” USA workers (a lie), and then started off-shoring all sorts of jobs directly to third world countries.

      I don’t trust anything that Barry Zero does anymore, as I have yet to see *one thing* that he’s done that has really enured to the benefit of US workers (as opposed to doing everything possible to benefit the upper 2%, which is the *only* thing I’ve witnessed Obama doing). I remain unconvinced but willing be surprised. Won’t hold my breath.

      • marksb says:

        Probably a mixed bag here. Tech has started to bring jobs back to the U.S., but it doesn’t begin to counter the manufacturing off-shore standard way of doing business.
        In several companies I worked for we hired H1(B) engineers, and near as I could tell it was both because their expertise was beyond a lot of what was available here for the same wage, and because they worked their asses off far beyond the local kids. Lights were on in the lab all night and it was usually the guys from India that were punching the keyboards, while the locals were out partying. Plus with two years of experience, we could then shift them to managing development efforts in India–which was *way* cheaper, often less than a quarter of the cost of U.S. labs. That kind of differential is pretty much orgasmic to the CEO…

        • onitgoes says:

          Ok. Nice to hear that Tech may be bringing some jobs back to the USA. I take your story as mostly true from your perspective. However, back in the dot.com boom years, I knew a ton of US techie workers who had a hard time getting jobs – even tho we were all told endlessly that we’d get a job in seconds bc of our education, expertise and experience. Didn’t happen. I saw far too many H1(B) visas being issued, and I don’t doubt that the workers from India (or wherever) were very highly qualified, talented and hard workers. That said, I also don’t accept that *only* third world workers had the skills and knowledge and talent needed. There were US workers just as qualified, but they wanted *appropriate pay & benefits.* Often the third world workers got *much less pay* but they were willing to accept it.

          And finally, most of my US colleagues and I worked long long long hours of uncompensated overtime, so I disagree that that was *only* third world workers who were willng to punch the keyboards late at night. that doesn’t accord with my direct personal experience. And then: why should third world workers be hired to work at slave wages for long long hours and be satisfied with that??? All that does is downgrade wages and working conditions for working serfs world-wide.

          That’s what’s wrong with that picture, imo.

        • jdmckay0 says:

          In several companies I worked for we hired H1(B) engineers, and near as I could tell it was both because their expertise was beyond a lot of what was available here for the same wage, and because they worked their asses off far beyond the local kids. Lights were on in the lab all night and it was usually the guys from India that were punching the keyboards, while the locals were out partying.

          Well, tech H1B hiring has been an evolutionary process not adequately described as u say.

          In short form, just 10 yrs ago US had the best tech people in the world… by far. And there were plenty of ’em burning the midnight oil as you now describe HIB workers. AFAIC, what happened: WS demanded higher profits which undermined hugely useful projects extremely worthwhile to longterm health of US economy. They directed investment to quick profit consumer products, almost entirely abandoning infrastructure builing and foraging new frontiers. I can’t tell you how many projects got deep sixed in this process… stuff we desperately need now.

          All kinds of things happened. The big boys (M$, ORACLE and others) bought state legislators w/their own R&D money, and made public Universities their labs. These schools got addicted to that funding while public $$ dried up. Rather then continue the broad based research which had produced so much of value, Universities became narrowly focused on doing bidding of these guys… their purposes were directed by corp. interests.

          Graduates from the best of these schools, today, are ill equipped for much other then narrow focus of their benefactors.

          Oddly, the offshore tech schools which were in their infancy 10 yrs ago… producing “talent” way behind our homegrown frontiering techies. The offshoring essentially financed their education of last decade, not to mention quality of their institutions. I’m talking India, even more so China, and a few other lesser knowns. They have gone forward, while we’ve stagnated and lied about it.

          This process had not been adequately described, is not understood by US public, and in very real ways is a big part of “financial meltdown”: eg. massive tech workforce put on the streets by H1B hires which permeated throughout the economy. As housing bubble drove values up, our biggest industry of world leading techies lost income to pay for these prices… poof!!! gone.

          Similar situation w/manufacturing: world has passed us by in modern, efficient, flexible manufacturing processes. US biz financed their education in this regard, chasing cheap labor. A funny thing happened along the way, though: these “emerging” economies took a look at paltry wages paid to make westerners rich, and concluded: “why should we work our fingers to the bone for those fat ass’ed MF’ers?” Or in other words, pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, bought their own enterprises, and now largely dictate their own pricing for these goods w/mega profits going into *their* bank accounts.

          We used to call this the “American Way”.

          Summary: people here don’t understand still… those jobs are gone. Those homegrown USA leadership technologies… gone. We’ve decimated our infrastructure for doing what these now “emerged” economies do. And given those people’s desire for a standard of living beyond sweatshop wages, they are now directing world economic directions.

          People here also don’t understand how far we’ve been leapfrogged by these countries. China now has more world leading University research, development and pilot projects then I can count… and it’s mostly homegrown stuff now. They’re doing this in energy, water, transportation. Their blue collar workers make +/- 5% of min. wage US workers, yet these people save!!!

          It’s no accident that GM and all these other US multi-nationals are now happy to engage w/China as “partners”… agreements whereby they teach, share rather then command profits, and must reinvest large portions of their profits domestically (China).

          In short, China is doing what we used to do. And I can’t stress enough the “used to do” part.

          US is currently living on fumes… expecting standard of living based on past accomplishments, the foundation of which has been entirely undermined/decimated. The ignorance of this fact in public consciousness is (at least to me) as remarkable as all the foibles Marcy writes about daily in other areas (gov/justice/”spooks”/torture etc.): people talking/believing that BO is “taking away their freedoms”, when most of those are already long gone. And new wave of Tea Partying lawmakers is more committed to the plunder then the lawmakers who gave us the millenium decade’s plunder.


          • jdmckay0 says:

            Matt Taibbi has worthwhile read up @ Rolling Stone:

            Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?

            IMO he summarizes well most of what my take on this crime spree has entailed. A couple snippets:

            (…)Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth — and nobody went to jail.

            Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom — an industrywide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities — has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What’s more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even “one dollar” just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick “The Gorilla” Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars.


            Just ask the people who tried to do the right thing.


            The systematic lack of regulation has left even the country’s top regulators frustrated. Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant for the SEC, laughs darkly at the idea that the criminal justice system is broken when it comes to Wall Street. “I think you’ve got a wrong assumption — that we even have a law-enforcement agency when it comes to Wall Street,” he says.

            He goes on to describe well how process of justice is systematically derailed, where it happens in food chain, and how this was accomplished.

            The extent of propoganda never ceases to amaze me. One which has stuck in my craw for several days, was WSJ OpED on Wednesday by AEI’s Peter Wallison:
            A Way forward for the Mortgage Market

            Bascially, he’s applauding Geithner’s proposal to kill Freddie and Fannie. This, BTW, has been a WS pipe dream for a long time, as WS wants the profit that F&F has “stolen” from them by delivering affordable home mortgages. Same as WS has tried to do w/Soc Security: eg. if they couldn’t get their hand on SS management fees, they are willing to kill it all together.

            Anyway, a couple things that really galled me from this article. Wallison attempts to bs F&F misteps:

            In 1992, we got affordable housing requirements that required the GSEs to extend their subsidy to low- income borrowers who couldn’t meet the standards for prime loans.

            These guys have repeatedly trotted out pundits blaming housing crisis on low income loans. In fact, St. Louis, Cleveland and other FED’s has definitively shown these things outperformed standard FHA loans, not to mention the sub primes which drove the bubble.

            Worse, F&F were mandated to make these loans because banks in these communities… holding deposits from these “low income” folks, were not serving them: they couldn’t get home loans in the communities in which they lived.

            This idiot continues:

            And in 2008, we got higher loan limits that enabled Fannie and Freddie to buy mortgages for million-dollar homes. In the end, both low-income and high- income borrowers got to benefit from the GSEs’ subsidy.

            Right… done at behest of Countrywide and other Subprime mortgage factory crooks who twisted lawmaker’s arms to force F&F to take their bad loans… long after the fact. Essentially, another taxpayer bailout of crooked financial doings.

            What made the recent financial crisis distinctive was that because of affordable-housing requirements and other policies, half of all mortgages in 2008 were subprime or otherwise risky loans.

            A flat out lie. Affordable housing requirements had nothing to do w/sub prime proliferation: rather, WS’s need for these turkeys to bundle into their various mortage bond scams was driving factor.

            Wallison’s stinger:

            When the bubble deflated, they began to default in unprecedented numbers. If government policy had not encouraged the origination of these mortgages, we would not have had a financial crisis.

            Hilarious. Absolutely, fucking, hilarious… in more ways then I can count.

            AEI is every bit as corrupt in their domain as Donahue/Chamber is in theirs.


  10. Denn says:

    I think mining data on customers may be only one part of the story here. Look at the role of the social media in the current revolts in the Middle East, and juxtapose that with the anti-labor fuckery going on in the here-and-now. Seems to me that the PTB would like a way to pull the plug on any and all organizational tools available to the working class.

  11. felicity says:

    Who says that the days of ‘smoke-filled rooms’ are over – only naifs. I’m reminded of an advertising ploy introduced, but never carried out due to questions of its constitutionality, years ago whereby a nano-second flash of a product on a TV screen would register subliminally but not consciously in the viewer prompting him to automatically pick up and buy the product at the super market the next day.

    If such a ploy were to be introduced today, I doubt it would be outlawed. The behind-the-scenes wheelings and dealings of the powers that be today are adversely affecting our quality of life and we have no idea what’s happening.

  12. mzchief says:

    When Jason Leopold linked to a WSJ report titled, “Obama breaks bread with Silicon Valley execs,” I quipped, “otherwise known as, Obama breaks bread w/our partners in domestic surveillance.” After all, some of the companies represented–Google, Facebook, Yahoo–are among those that have been willingly sharing customer data with federal law enforcement officials.

    EW, your points can be applied to Oregon as today Obama is visiting “Tech City” (more here), Hillsboro, Washington County, OR after the Washington County sheriff urges Portland to rejoin the JTTF and when the Portland, OR mayor, Sam Adams is having meetings about the JTTF (see “Mayor Sam Adams’ Thoughts on the Joint Terrorism Task Force” (by Hank Stern [ Hankhstern at wweek dot com ], Feb. 14, 2011) and will mid-day give the State of the City (February 18, 2011 – 12:15pm – 1:15pm PST). I find that to be amazing timing.

  13. wendydavis says:

    I watched the videos about how Egypt was able to pull the switch to cut off internet there, and hardly understood a word of it (tech ignorant here), and understand that it was partially successful because the system was pigg-backed onto old phone systems (I think), but:

    In what ways might the alliance between the White House and the tech companies be about shutting things down when the WW deemed it necessary, either here or in other countries (Tech Foreign Policy, IOW, via Good Advice to our client-states)?

    Am I just tripping? Check one Box: O Yes 0 No

  14. JohnLopresti says:

    Though appreciating the gist of the post, I also could envision one more column in the data historically from 2008, namely, a McCain column. For example, Cisco*s leader is a longtime Republican supporter. Additionally, lobbying has a new emphasis, is my guess, in the current Washington environment, viewed from a short term legislative effectiveness perspective by the listed donors from Sunlight; that is, although companies notoriously give to both parties to preserve voice thru election cycles, the ongoing obstructive postures of congressional Republicans may be enhancing the meaning of informal channels of communication. Stated another way, if congress is not going to act favorably, lobbying may be more important for the 112th congress.

    I have seen two interesting reports on the lobbying topic recently. That is a paper which attempts to follow recipients of lobbying money rather than viewing the process from party membership. Bertrand; 478 KB.

    Another paper is there; Hasen 785 KB; title Lobbying, Rent-Seeking, and the Constitution. 63 pp, footnoted, I believe the link to be the most current draft.