Executives of Google Inc. had a flurry of White House meetings with top officials of the White House and also the Federal Trade Commission, which was just wrapping up an antitrust investigation into the activities of the company. Larry Page, the co-founder of the search giant met with the officials of the agency for discussing settlement talks, according to the emails and visitor logs reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of the company met with one of the senior advisors of President Obama, Pete Rouse, in the White House. The documents don’t reveal what was discussed in these meetings held in late 2012.
However, it wasn’t long after that the probe was ended by the agency as Google had agreed to make changes to its system voluntarily. One sign of the search engine giant’s reach in Washington is its access to the high ranking officials of the Obama administration during a very sensitive phase of the antitrust investigation. Furthermore, a review of the visitor logs of the White House also revealed that since the office was taken by Mr. Obama, there have been about 230 visits of employees of the Mountain View, California Company to the White House for attending meetings with senior officials. The average shows that there was about one visit every week.
Johanna Shelton is one of the top lobbyists at Google and her meetings at the White House were about 60. In contrast, the employees of another force in Washington and Google’s rival, Comcast Corp, have visited the White House about 20 times after Mr. Obama took office. Niki Christoff, a Google spokeswoman said that it was important to aid policy makers in understanding the work they do for creating great products, keeping the internet open and fueling economic growth. A White House spokeswoman, Jennifer Friedman, said that the FTC is an independent organization and their independence is respected.
She further asserted that it was common for White House officials to conduct meetings with business executives on a variety of issues regularly. With these meetings, the White House remains aware of outside perspectives about important policies. She said that the staff was fully aware that it isn’t appropriate to discuss any issues concerning regulatory enforcement. An FTC spokesman, Justin Cole highlighted the independence of FTC and said that the agency made decisions after taking into account the applicable evidence and laws of every case.
There has been growing scrutiny about how Google managed to avoid a potentially damaging lawsuit by FTC and the company’s knack of being in contact with important government officials has become relevant. Last week, it was reported by the agency’s competition staff that anticompetitive tactics were used by Google and it abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed its rivals and internet users. A lawsuit was recommended by the staff, which would have initiated one of the most high profile antitrust cases after Microsoft Corp was sued by the Justice Department in 1990. The FTC commissioners ended the probe after unanimous voting.