Washington largely ignored Facebook during the company’s early years, viewing it as a popular fad among college kids, who didn’t vote anyways. But all that changed after the 2008 election, when young people turned out to vote in droves, mobilized in large part by social media. Suddenly every politician was scrambling to get on Facebook and integrate it into their own campaigns. Now Facebook, valued at $184 billion, has become one of the most powerful companies in Washington, as seen in part by their massive lobbying expenditures.
In 2013, Facebook spent $6.4 million on lobbying – a 68 percent increase from what they had spent the year before, and nearly six time what they spent the year before that in 2011. As a result, last year Facebook became the fifth biggest K Street spender in the internet industry, a distinction they are on track to beat this year, having spent $2.7 million in the first quarter alone, the most the company has ever spent in single quarter since they’ve starter their lobbying operations. Their second quarter spending, released this week, was at $2.1 million.
Based on spending for the first quarter of 2014, Facebook is the second biggest lobbying spender behind Google, which has consistently spent millions more than Facebook. However, Facebook continues to barrel ahead of other social media companies. Twitter only began their lobbying operations last year, and has only spent $140,000 so far this year. LinkedIn as spent $90,000 for the year so far.
Facebook’s growing lobbying presence is due in a large part to the company’s increasingly diverse political interests. While the company began lobbying on typical internet interests such as net neutrality, it now lobbies on issues like online privacy, immigration reform, and national security – issues that have taken top billing on Capitol Hill due to the growing integration of technology and public policy.
Also suggestive of Facebook’s lobbying growth is the fact that even when adding issues to its lobbying roster, the company has retained most of their lobbyists in-house. The contracts Facebook does hold on K Street, with large firms like Squire Patton Boggs, Steptoe & Johnson and Elmendorf Ryan, only accounted for $240,000, which only about 10 percent of the company’s spending for the quarter.
With internet issues, including privacy and net neutrality bound to play only an increasingly important role on Capitol Hill, Facebook’s lobbying will likely show no signs of slowing down. Immigration reform, which has become a major priority for Silicon Valley as well as being a pet project for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, will likely be put back on the table after midterm elections, which will only increase the tech sector’s lobbying investments.