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Against Sopa, or running the congressional blockade in the digital age

When it comes to politics, as well as other walks of life, the old adage is “Follow the money.” Now, it’s a fact that politics is an expensive business on both sides of the pond. According to estimates based upon campaign spending in the Republican primaries, costs per voter have exceeded $100. It may well have been cheaper to just to buy their vote (if it was legal, of course). President Obama is widely expected to fight a $1bn campaign for re-election.Before we move from facts to interpretation, let’s have a brief segue into recent history. Without boring you with details of Netscape Navigator, in 1998 Microsoft was in trouble. An antitrust trial found Microsoft responsible for abusing its dominant position in the operating system market. Microsoft could have been broken up into smaller companies: how did it escape this grisly fate? Well, in part by participating in the democratic process. As OpenSecrets writes:

Prior to 1998, the company and its employees gave virtually nothing in terms of political contributions. But when the Justice Department launched an antitrust investigation … the company opened a Washington lobbying office, founded a political action committee and soon became one of the most generous political givers in the country.

The lack of post-Microsoft companies like the case of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company is evidence they avoided the worst case scenario.

Big net firms like Google do spend a lot on politics but mainly as clients of lobbying firms.The donations made by Google’s political action committee (PAC) are relatively small. Facebook is associated with a lot of political donations but mainly this is undertaken on the initiative of individual employees. Their efforts in politics have been ramping up as a countermeasure to perennial privacy controversies. Based on current indicators, the donations will only increase. Of course pro-Sopa organisations like Walt Disney, which has been a huge donor for a long time, give huge amounts to politicians too.

In recent months we’ve heard a lot about corporations, mainly banks, buying the process. Is this what Google and other companies like Facebook are doing? Or, like Microsoft, are they detecting an opportunity to defend their internal business status quo and abusive practices? As well as being on a ferocious fundraising schedule, politicians in Washington often benefit from so-called honest graft. Many trade stocks based on insider information they obtain in the course of their duties. It is an accepted truth that politicians get rich in Washington and so we must assume they play for keeps.

Could members of Congress and senators benefit from protecting companies like Microsoft from punishment and by penning disastrous legislation like Sopa that forces companies like Google to participate in the horse trading? Perhaps there’s a congressional protection racket of sorts. In November of last year, Facebook admitted privacy breaches to the Federal Trade Commission. If it becomes a big-time donor maybe it will be protected from sanctions when it breaks privacy regulations. Maybe it’s too farfetched in these terms but the effect of money on politics comes back time and time again. The picture is always going to be intentionally obfuscated but maybe the grasping aspect of politicians has been downplayed in favour of the robber baron narrative.

20/01/2012

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georgehamiltonjones