Visitor logs show that Google had around 230 total visits to the White House since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, which averages out to almost a meeting per week. Both Google cofounder Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt have made visits.
Telecom giant Comcast, on the other hand, totalled 20 visits to the White House during the same period of time.
Both Google and the White House have called the visits a normal part of policy making — which requires understanding industries under regulation — and separate from any FTC proceedings.
“We think it is important to have a strong voice in the debate and help policy makers understand our business and the work we do to keep the Internet open, to build great products, and to fuel economic growth,” Google spokeswoman Niki Christoff told WSJ.
“[The FTC] is an independent agency and we respect their independent decision-making,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Friedman.
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) March 25, 2015
That sentiment was reiterated by FTC spokesman Justin Cole who said “The FTC is an independent law enforcement agency. Its enforcement decisions are driven by the applicable law and evidence in each case.”
There's no way to know the content of all those Google-White House meetings, but in 2010 the FTC had opened an antitrust investigation over a complaint about search results and rankings. The probe ultimately ended with a 5-0 decision to not bring charges against the search giant after Google agreed to make certain changes to its business practices.
The FTC's anti-competition staff recommended a lawsuit in their August 2012 report — as revealed in documents accidentally released to the Journal — asserting that Google's “conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”
The opposite recommendation in a report from the FTC's economic bureau, on the other hand, makes the vote just months later in January 2013 not to pursue charges somewhat less striking.
The 2012 election, held during the intervening period between report and vote, saw a powerful reach from Google to the White House. On election night itself, Eric Schmidt was overseeing campaign software for Obama. And Google employees were one of the largest sources of campaign donations, by company, second only to Microsoft, subject of an antitrust investigation itself in the 1990s."
— Adam Khan (@Khanoisseur) March 25, 2015
And overall the Google lobbying effort is one of the most well-funded of any sector. In 2014 they spent $16.8 million on lobbying, second only to Comcast. And that spending has tripled since the year the investigation was opened in 2010.
Google has 100 lobbyists on its payroll from 20 different lobbying firms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. One of those lobbyists alone, Johanna Shelton, visited the White House on over 60 occasions.