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Even the moonshots at have lobbyists.
The search-and-advertising giant is the tech industry's most active political spender. But as it seeks to spare its most audacious projects from prohibitive government regulations — big bets like internet-beaming balloons and energy-capturing kites — Google is hiring even more help in Washington, D.C..
Starting in September, the secretive Google X research lab retained a trio of outside lobbyists with deep connections to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to a newly filed federal ethics disclosure. Its precise agenda, however, is about as hush-hush as Google X itself: The firm, Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid, only revealed in its filing that it would provide "situational analysis of policies relevant to X."
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A spokeswoman for Google X declined to comment on this story.
The hire marks the first time Google X has retained its own outside lobbyists, but it's not such a surprising development. Along with battling onerous privacy bills and advocating for tax reforms, Google has always devoted some of its lobbying dollars toward advancing autonomous cars and drones and its other so-called "moonshots." All of those endeavors contributed to the company's record $9.1 million in lobbying spending over the first six months of this year.
Recently, though, Google has spun out some of its more successful gambits into individual units. As it has done so, Google's parent, Alphabet, has bolstered them with their own government-relations teams. That includes Google's autonomous vehicle effort, Waymo, which has hired lobbyists and policy brains this year in both Washington, D.C., and its home base in Mountain View, Calif. The additions came as the U.S. Congress began to debate — earnestly, for the first time — new legislation that could put more self-driving cars on U.S. roads.
And now the remaining projects at Google X are gaining their own bit of government affairs help, too.
One of the projects under the Google X umbrella is Makani, which aims to collect energy by kite. There's also Project Loon, which aspires to beam internet to hard-to-reach areas that aren't served by existing wireless or wireline broadband connections. And Project Wing is Google's attempt to deliver packages by autonomous drone.
A longtime player in D.C. debates over drones, Google — and the rest of its industry — is still seeking the right rules from the U.S. government that would help it test, then deploy, commercial craft. With Loon, meanwhile, Google this month learned the power — and necessity — of having lobbyists in the nation's capital. It has already secured special permission from the Federal Communications Commission to deploy Loon in Puerto Rico, where the Hurricane Maria-ravaged territory still lacks telecom services.
—By Tony Romm, Re/code.net.
CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.