Why is Facbeook loading up on Republican lobbyists in DC?
When any social entity gets as big as Facebook, it usually has a hard time staying apolitical. Which is probably why, as soon as its meteoric rise to social ubiquity became a foregone conclusion as early as 2007, Facebook opened up an office in Washington, DC.
At the time, Facebook’s DC office was a one-man operation consisting solely of Democratic lobbyist Adam Conner. The next year, President Obama rode a wave of internet social networking, powered in part by Facbeook, to raise a record amount of campaign financing and a landslide victory for the White House.
Facebook equalled youth culture, and while a hundred million users represented all walks of life, by and large the culture and institutional identity of Facebook seemed to lean Democratic.
Then as the Facebook network crossed the half-billion mark and began pondering an IPO, the full weight of the site’s privacy and security implications attracted more political scrutiny, and things began to change.
In November Mark Zuckerberg invited George W. Bush, symbol of the old Republican guard, to stop by for an informal interview to promote his new book. Simultaneously, Facebook began facing increasing scrutiny from Democratic officials wary of privacy concerns like Al Franken, and in February Mark Zuckerberg received an admonishing letter from the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus.
Until February, Facebook’s DC lobbying team had been largely Democratic. Last year “Marne Levine, formerly chief of staff to the National Economic Council, joined Democratic lobbyists Adam Conner, and Tim Sparapani, known for his previous privacy work with the American Civil Liberties Union.”
However Politico reports that “Facebook added notable Republican talent in February by bringing on [Cathie] Martin—once a top Bush aide.” And two brand new hires to start next month come from the George W. Bush Administration: “Former Bush deputy chief of staff Joel Kaplan will join Facebook in June to become its vice president of U.S. public policy. Also starting next month is Myriah Jordan, who once worked in the same White House office as Kaplan.”
What’s with Facebook loading up on Republican lobbyists? One possibility is that the company is betting on a shift in political power toward Republicans, possibly in next year’s presidential election. With a controversial planned IPO sure to raise billions in 2012 or 2013 at latest, Facebook will want to be well positioned with Republicans should they come to wield outsized influence over the next couple years.
Another possibility is that, with the issues over internet privacy attracting more scrutiny from Democrats like Al Franken, Facebook may want to capitalize on Republicans’ traditionally “business friendly” reputation to help them avoid regulation that could be damaging and costly—potentially even threatening to their business model.
A third possibility could be that, with a lobbying deck historically stacked with Democrats, Facebook might simply want to hedge its bets and appear “fair and balanced” in the public policy realm. An image of neutrality may well help the company as it gets closer to an IPO.
Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes says, “It’s imperative to scale our policy team so that we have the resources in place to demonstrate to policymakers that we are industry leaders in privacy, data security and safety,” reports Politico. It looks like lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will be enjoying many fancy corporate lunches inside the beltway for the foreseeable future—or at least until Facebook’s IPO.