The revolving door that ushers the political elite in Washington D.C. from their jobs in the federal government to K-Street has started to face competition in recent years from Silicon Valley. Technology companies of all sizes from start-ups to Silicon Valley’s biggest player have begun to attract the top talent from Washington, D.C. Business Insider reports, “Tech companies are gobbling up executives who have the political clout and connections to help build bridges to D.C.” and that “the gulf that once existed between Silicon Valley and DC is growing smaller.” Below are a couple examples of notable D.C. political insiders who have made the move over to Silicon Valley.
- Jay Carney served as President Obama’s Press Secretary from 2011-2014. He joined Amazon in2015 as Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Affairs.
- Kevin Martin served as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2005 to 2009. He joined Facebook in 2015 as its Vice President of Mobile and Global Access Policy.
- Susan Molinari served as a Republican representative from New York where she stayed for seven years. She joined Google in as Vice President of Policy and Public Relations.
- David Plouffe served as President Obama’s campaign manager in the 2008 election. He joined Uber in 2014, as Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy.
The addition of politically connected executives has led to a change in strategy in Silicon Valley. Mashable reports that after years of being behind the curve in Washington, D.C., “Silicon Valley slowly caught on to the traditional way of doing business with the power elite: Google has spent more than $16 million lobbying Congress and the Obama administration already this year, Facebook is up to nearly $8 million and Twitter, which spends a tiny fraction of that, added three outside firms in the last quarter to assist its nascent two-person lobbying shop.” In fact, the technology industry has so thoroughly embraced lobbying that “while total annual spending on lobbying has decreased slightly over the last five years, Internet companies have tripled their lobbying spending, to $47.5 million, during the same period. The industry now spends just a little less than the auto sector,” according to the New York Times.
Lobbying is also not just restricted to the biggest players in Silicon Valley, startups like personal butler service Hello Alfred have also embraced lobbying as an essential aspect of doing business. Marcela Sapone, CEO of Hello Alfred has said, “We are a young company but we also have to make decisions early that are ethical and business-oriented, and that means engaging in Washington early.” Getting involved in lobbying also doesn’t necessarily mean hiring lobbyists. Leaders from Hello Alfred have “appeard on numerous policy panels and have written op-eds. They have been invited to a White House summit event on the future of labor. And Marcela Sapone, the company’s chief executive, has made two trips to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers, research organizations and the political press to rethink labor laws for the digital age.”
For technology companies lobbying can serve multiple purposes from simply creating good will with those on the Hill to working with lawmakers on policies and regulations. Whatever the goal, according to Ted Ullyot, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, who is now at Andreessen Horowitz, “For our start-ups, the advice we give is to get in early.”