Google averages a meeting a week at the Obama White House – and avoids FTC antitrust lawsuit

Google averages a meeting a week at the Obama White House – and avoids FTC antitrust lawsuit
(Image: AP, Marcio Jose Sanchez via WSJ)

Google’s access to high-ranking Obama administration officials during a critical phase of the antitrust probe is one sign of the Internet giant’s reach in Washington. Since Mr. Obama took office, employees of the Mountain View, Calif., company have visited the White House for meetings with senior officials about 230 times, or an average of roughly once a week, according to the visitor logs reviewed by the Journal.

One top lobbyist at Google, Johanna Shelton, has had more than 60 meetings at the White House. In comparison, employees of rival Comcast Corp., also known as a force in Washington, have visited the White House a total of about 20 times since Mr. Obama took office. …

Google’s knack for getting in the room with important government officials is gaining new relevance as scrutiny grows over how the company avoided being hit by the FTC with a potentially damaging antitrust lawsuit. …

The staff recommended a lawsuit, which would have triggered one of the highest-profile antitrust cases since the Justice Department sued Microsoft Corp. in the 1990s. FTC commissioners voted unanimously to end the probe.

Visitor logs and internal emails reviewed by the Journal describe meetings involving Google, senior White House advisers and top FTC officials between the staff’s recommendation in August 2012 and the vote in January 2013.

On Nov. 6, 2012, the night of Mr. Obama’s re-election, Mr. Schmidt was personally overseeing a voter-turnout software system for Mr. Obama. The Google chairman helped design the system. A few weeks later, Ms. Shelton and a senior antitrust lawyer at Google went to the White House to meet with one of Mr. Obama’s technology advisers.

By the end of the month, the FTC had decided not to file an antitrust lawsuit against the company, according to the agency’s internal emails.

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