The tech giant made political donations to three out of four Members of the US Congress who wrote to the European Parliament to warn against search engine “unbundling”.
It is rare for members of the US Congress to agree on anything these days. So when two senior Congressmen and two senior US Senators, two Democrats and two Republicans, write a joint letter to the European Parliament to complain about “a trend in the European Union to discriminate against foreign companies with respect to the digital economy”, you sense that something is up.
In their letter, the US legislators express particular concerns about a draft European Parliament resolution on supporting consumer rights in the digital single market, which MEPs are due to vote on in Strasbourg today (Thursday 27 November). Paragraph 10 of this draft resolution calls on the Commission “to consider proposals aimed at unbundling search engines from other commercial services”. In other words, to break up the Google monopoly which is strangling the online economy.
It struck me that this unusual display of bipartisan cooperation might not be entirely devoid of self-interest. So I looked up the campaign finance records of all four members of Congress on opensecrets.org, the excellent website run by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the role of money in US politics (a less comprehensive, but nonetheless welcome EU equivalent, integritywatch.eu, was launched last month).
It turns out that three out of four signatories received financial backing from Google in the latest US electoral cycle (up to 2014). Democratic US Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, received $37,500. The ranking Republican on his Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch, received $31,700. Republican Congressman Dave Camp, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, received $7,600. Only Congressman Sander Levin, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, didn’t take any money from Google. Combined total: $76,800.
Knowing this, who can tell whether the Congressional letter to the European Parliament was inspired by genuine policy concerns, narrow self-interest, or both? Google likes to say that competing search engines “are only one click away”. It seems that for Google, a letter from the US Congress to the European Parliament is only a campaign cheque away.
Spiegel Online has published an article (in German) which reveals that there are other Members of Congress who wrote to the European Parliament on this issue and who received campaign money from Google.