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Friday, September 26, 2014

Tech, Lobbying, and Transparency

Julian Hattem reports at The Hill:
Tech companies spend millions of dollars on political donations and lobbying, yet they are also some of the least transparent, according to a new report.
A new analysis from the Center for Political Accountability and the University of Pennsylvania’s Zicklin Center for Business Ethics showed that the information technology sector ranked near the bottom of industries it reviewed, with an overall score of 44 out of 100.

Two tech companies — Netflix and Salesforce — were given a score of 0 on the organization’s annual list.
Derek Willis and Claire Cain Miller write at The New York Times:
To a large extent, the index represents a political maturity list. The top ranks are occupied by companies that have extensive contacts with the political world, usually through lobbying and campaign contributions, and who understand the public relations benefits of disclosing such information.
From that perspective, the index also illustrates the tech industry’s relative lack of political savvy. “Tech is really bad at figuring out how to contribute to political causes and issues,” said Josh Mendelsohn, a tech investor and co-founder of Engine, which does policy research and advocacy to help link Silicon Valley to Washington. “I don’t think it’s anything pernicious, but it’s us not being really sophisticated.”
Up until a decade ago, the tech industry wanted little to do with Washington, mostly because it seemed to epitomize the old-fashioned way of getting things done. Regulators don’t understand technology, tech executives often said. Washington moves too slowly to keep up with fast-changing technology, and technology can solve problems more efficiently than the public sector, many of them believed.

Yet Silicon Valley’s attitude has recently evolved from dismissive to grudgingly cooperative. It has realized it has no choice but to develop a relationship with Washington. Its companies are getting so big and powerful that they are attracting the attention of regulators and surveillance agencies. The industry has realized that Washington is the route to address issues it cares about, like net neutrality and the push for more visas for highly educated immigrants. Many companies have hired executives from deep inside government, opened Washington offices and increased their lobbying and political spending.