Google Upsets Environmentalists, Plays D.C. Money Game

Google isn't the quirky, idealistic upstart it once was, and hasn't been for a while now

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Tom Williams / Roll Call / Getty Images

Republican Senator Jim Inhofe speaks at a news conference outside of the Capitol on June 20, 2013.

A handful of environmental activists gathered Thursday outside a glitzy fundraiser in Washington to protest corporate hypocrisy. Like most of the demonstrations that dot downtown D.C. each day, it was a ragtag scene: a few paid staffers, a couple of passionate locals, and a clutch of students toting signs and chanting slogans outside a glassy office tower. The company being targeted, however, was an unlikely villain for environmental protests. “Google is supposed to be green,” says Matt Owens, a climate activist from suburban Washington. “What they’re doing is completely unacceptable.”

What Google was doing was hosting a fundraiser for Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, who is up for re-election next year. Inhofe is one of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans. He believes, for instance, that the birthers “have a point,” and that Barack Obama is trying “to destroy every institution that makes America great.” Inhofe is perhaps best known, however, for his position on climate change. He is a staunch opponent of EPA regulations. He authored a treatise called “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” He thinks the Bible disproves global warming, and he once denounced the “arrogance” of scientists who suggest that “we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate.”

Inhofe’s skepticism toward the settled science of global warming makes him a strange ally for Google, which has nurtured a reputation as a socially conscious firm that is committed to the environment. Its website boasts of more than $1 billion donated to renewable-energy projects. “You can lie about the effects of climate change,” Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman and informal adviser to Barack Obama, said last month, “but eventually you’ll be seen as a liar.”

Which isn’t to say Google won’t still hobnob with you, or pay for the privilege. The search firm isn’t the quirky, idealistic upstart it once was, and hasn’t been for a while now. It is a corporate behemoth with the third largest market cap in the U.S. and a lobbying footprint that reaches deep into the Washington mud. Last year Google forked over more than $18 million in lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — more than any company except General Electric. As it learns to navigate the capital’s insular folkways and hidebound bureaucracies, it has lavished cash on politicians from both parties.

What prompted Google to host a shindig where attendees shelled out up to $2,500 for lunch with Inhofe? A data center the company operates at an industrial park in Pryor, Okla. “Google runs a significant operation … that provides around 100 jobs,” Rusty Appleton, Inhofe’s campaign manager, tells TIME. “The Senator had an opportunity to tour the facilities in May of last year, and is committed to ensuring that Oklahoma remains a great place to do business.”

A Google spokesperson tells TIME the company regularly hosts fundraisers for candidates of all stripes, even when Google disagrees with some of their policies — as it does with Inhofe on climate change. “While we don’t agree with Senator Inhofe on several issues, we agree with him on many, such as open and free competition for defense contracts, for enterprise services,” says the spokesperson. “We engage on Google issues because we are a home-state employer.”

This explanation didn’t wash with the activists outside Google’s D.C. headquarters near K Street. “What’s their slogan? ‘Don’t be evil’?” asked Eric Anderson, a software engineer from Silver Spring, Md. “If they’re doing things to further damage our planet, well, that’s pretty evil in my book.”

But if environmentalists were outraged, they should not have been surprised. As Google and its Silicon Valley competitors plunge further into Washington politics, they have found allies on all bands of the political spectrum. As the Washington Post reported, last month Google sent $50,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank linked to the Koch brothers. (Facebook doled out $25,000.) Google was among the tech firms that lobbied to loosen hiring restrictions on high-skilled workers as part of the Senate’s immigration bill, a provision opposed by organized labor. It is hardly the only tech firm with liberal roots to court controversy. Fwd.US, the immigration-reform advocacy group partly funded by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, incensed progressives by running ads that praise lawmakers for backing the Keystone pipeline and drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge.

“Google has cultivated a reputation for working to support scientific inquiry and pursuing environmental sustainability,” wrote Brad Johnson, campaign manager of Forecast the Facts, the group that staged Thursday’s protest. “This reputation will be rendered meaningless if the fundraiser goes forward.” But it did, of course. A pair of polite young Googlers in business casual went downstairs to collect a petition. The smattering of protesters chanted “Google, don’t fund evil,” as a pair of black-clad security guards blocked the doors, directing employees carrying takeout lunches to use the side door.

Upstairs, the business of Washington went on.

19 comments
DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

Science can say comet hits are real but science can't say their comet hit of a crisis called catastrophic climate crisis from Human CO2 is as real as they can say an "eventual" comet hit is. Science didn't lie, YOU fear mongers of climate blame belief did. 28 years of only saying "maybe" proves it won't be a real crisis.

Science: "climate change is real and is happening and could cause a climate crisis."

NEVER have they said anything more than "could be". Prove me wrong.

VicVicVicx
VicVicVicx

@DavidNutzuki That's not how the scientific method works.

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

So just how close to the point of no return from complete unstoppable warming of the entire planet will your scientists take us before they say THEIR own "catastrophic" climate crisis WILL happen? And if "maybe" is good enough to condemn billions of helpless children, you are not planet lover, just a fear monger and some day history will view this 28 years of needless CO2 panic as a pure war crime.

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

Actually how are you any different from a bible thumper? Belief is faith and knowledge is wisdom and science has NEVER said any crisis WILL happen yet you choose to "believe".

Can you explain how science denied for decades that their pesticides were dangerous if your faith in the "method" is in fact reality?

PhilM1957
PhilM1957

@DavidNutzuki Actually, the "scientific method" is the " the system of advancing knowledge by formulating a question, collecting data about it through observation and experiment, and testing a hypothetical answer" - which has not been done with the "conclusions regarding climate change". The only thing that has been done is a conclusion theorized and people for their own gain jumping on that bandwagon. There are greedy people on both sides of the aisle, but at this point more on the climate change side than the other. The "evidence" has either suggested they are wrong or been proven to have been tampered with when it suggested they are correct. It was not too long ago that the media was promoting the exact opposite theory. And that too was unproven. 

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki like.author.displayName 1 Like

Remember doomers, deny the deniers for it is who is saying what not what is being said and besides, isn't it fun condemning billions of kids to the greenhouse gas ovens of an exaggerated crisis?

woodyj3@gmail.com
woodyj3@gmail.com like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I was impressed by Google, a  large American company whose business is a huge provider of high quality tech services and high paying jobs, when I watched the Eckart Tolle videos on U tube.  I came away thinking this was a great company.  It may be, but after reading that they have joined the ranks of the businesses that use their substantial financial resources to bribe the elected Congressmen in Washington, DC, my opinion of Google has diminished by 90%.  When you fund a guy like Inhofe, whose views are, at the very least, supremely unintelligent, Google has declined to his low level of intelligence.  Your contribution to the corruption in DC is appalling.  

Why are you not using your considerable financial resources to get rid of the corruption instead of being the second largest contributor furthering the corruption?  You should hang your head in shame.

Google has become a super successful business because it was started in America where there is no limit to what smart and talented people can foster and build.  Google has now lowered itself to the sewers in which the congressmen (small letter on purpose) of the United States reside on a daily basis.  What are you thinking????

I am 82 years old and to see this country sink to the level of corruption of 3rd world countries, saddens me.  It is a sad day for all Americans, a national disgrace.

You people at Google are supposed to be highly intelligent.  Your purchase of congressmen is highly unintelligent.

TomHorn
TomHorn

@woodyj3@gmail.com 

I'm not quite as old as you but I agree with your post here. In addition I find it difficult to understand how a individual as ignorant as Inhofe could be elected to be dog catcher. It's people like him who allow all sorts of what should be criminal behavior as long as he gets his share. Here you Google giving him money?  

Lets do away with the pesky EPA. No need to worry about all sorts of contaminates being dumped in the fresh water supplies of our people, they won't know the difference anyway. So we have a Oil Rig explode and kill a few workers , they knew it was a dangerous job and they were paid well, Oh some oil spilled on the beach just send some people in to clean it up run some commercials about how much we care and how we're with you all the way. Oh, and by the way lets get that pipe line going.  Keep that coal coming and quite worrying about pollution.

And seemingly intelligent people give him money to promote these kind of ideas.

Fluoride Filter

jnffarrell
jnffarrell like.author.displayName 1 Like

Phools and Pharisees Picket Google, that should be the headline. Paid staffers from self-appointed watch dogs are letting the rats in the front door. A good example of the better is the enemy of the good. Zealots willing to trade injury to others in support of their principle abound. I put this group in the same class of those who picket the burial of our war dead.

MrObvious
MrObvious like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@jnffarrell 

Pharisees? It's funny that you say so about people who demonstrate against a person who marry money and religion (Inhofe). Methinks you got your religion back hindwards.

jnffarrell
jnffarrell like.author.displayName 1 Like

@MrObvious @jnffarrell Methinks you should read Ode to a Louse. With more self knowledge purists might understand: it's not that simple.

Robbert5
Robbert5

@Jillxz @yogi kind of pretentious to believe to know what Jesus would have found funny or not, wouldn't you say?  And you answer to God and not to Jesus, at least that is what I was taught many years ago...

Jillxz
Jillxz

@yogi  A smart remark might get you a laugh here , but Jesus doesn't think it funny and He is the one you will eventually answer to whether you believe it or not.

yogi
yogi

And Jesus cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, but kept the cash for himself, because you know, founding a religion doesn't pay for itself!

Mathew 21:something or other

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

Prove us wrong news editor,

Science has NEVER agreed on climate change being anything more than a “could” be crisis and have NEVER said in 28 years that their crisis “will” happen like they say comet hits will. Find us one scientist that has ever said this comet hit of an emergency is “eventual” or “inevitable” like a real crisis would be and if science really had agreed it “will” be a crisis they would have said so and ended this costly debate to save the planet.

And get up to date:
*Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list
of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock
markets ruled by politicians.
*Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change
denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists
warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).
*Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.
*Obama had not mentioned the crisis in two State of the
Unions addresses.

cent-fan
cent-fan

@DavidNutzuki Scientist up to now have never called climate change a certainty because it was considered something that could be slowed, stopped, or in the long term reversed by a fairly concentrated effort to stop changing the chemistry of our atmosphere caused by adding carbon.  Now they're beginning to realize that we aren't going to change our ways... so are coastal states... so are farm states... so are coastal city governments... so are island nations... and climate change will be a part off life going forward.

By the way, with today's technology a comet hit isn't a certainty if we catch it on time.  You just have to invest in the effort to find it and stop it... or you can sit on your hands and let it drop... you know, like crapping in the atmosphere and expecting nature to keep things all the same always.

The big reason why the earth was hotter in the long past and why there were tropical forests in Canada was the percentage of carbon in the atmosphere.  A lot of that is trapped in the dead plant and animals of the past 500 million years.  Guess what?  We're burning the dead plants and animals in our cars every day and releasing that carbon.  If the sea temperatures rise the carbon will start dissolving out of all the bones of every sea creature that ever died in the ocean.  At that point the change will be turbocharged. 

Let me know if you find a scientist that says carbon and nitrogen are exactly the same gas.  They aren't, but of course you don't have to believe that if it interferes with your politics.

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

What does it take for a catastrophic crisis to be called 'inevitable' like comet hits. Will it be too late? How close to unstoppable warming will your lab coats take us/

Science gave us pesticides don't forget and why you would work so hard to believe in this misery? It's sick!