A detailed examination of White House visitor logs reveals the extraordinary access to the Obama White House enjoyed by Google, its top executives and employees. Since President Obama took office in January 2009 through October 31, 2015,i employees of Google and associated entities visited the White House 427 times.
- 363 meetings between White House officials and Google employees.ii
- 64 meetings involving employees of companies solely owned by Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt.
- The meetings were attended by at least 169 Google executives, from the company’s senior ranks down to software engineers, and 182 White House officials.
The tally excludes large events at the White House such as state dinners, parties or industry conferences. Most of the remainder were intimate gatherings: one-on-one meetings with key White House officials, or small groups of Google executives and a White House official or two—meetings at which public policies are likely to have been discussed.
The company’s top ranks have enjoyed frequent and direct contact with the top echelons of the Obama White House. Senior Google executives have met at least 21 times with President Obama in small, intimate meetings. Senior company executives also met at least 20 times with President Obama’s key political and economic advisers, including Jack Lew, Pete Rouse, Bill Daley, Jeff Zients, Denis McDonough, Valerie Jarrett, Jason Furman, Rahm Emmanuel and Kathy Ruemmler.
Overall, Google executives have had extraordinary access to the White House meetings at which policies are set. Google executives met over 100 times with the White House offices that set and execute White House policy, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), National Economic Council (NEC), Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), National Security Council (NSC) and others.
Records show that employees of the Silicon Valley giant have been present at meetings encompassing a surprisingly wide range of topics including intellectual property, national security, government contracts, digital media strategy, antitrust, biotechnology, energy and climate change, broadband and telecommunications, foreign policy, healthcare, aerospace and aeronautics.iii
The scope of the company’s influence within the White House isn’t confined to the company’s core search business. For example, the company appears to have met with the White House over its side bets, and those of its top executives.
Representatives of Google’s venture capital arm, Google Ventures, met with White House officials five times, while representatives from Google’s “moon shot” program, Google[X], have also been to the White House.
Employees of Eric Schmidt’s private venture capital fund, Tomorrow Ventures, logged 14 White House visits. Another company in which Schmidt is the sole investor, Civis Analytics, met with White House officials at least 51 times. The company, started by former data “whiz-kids” from Obama’s 2012 Obama re-election campaign, was instrumental in fixing the bungled launch of the HealthCare.gov website in 2013, alongside several Google software engineers. [See article on Civis Analytics].iv
Google’s executives have met with the White House to discuss U.S. foreign policy matters. Former key State Department officials such as Jared Cohen, now the head of Google’s “think/do” tank, Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas), have met with White House officials on several occasions.
What the Data Suggest
Google’s unfettered access to the White House calls into question the president’s commitment to limit the influence of lobbyists in his administration. While the lobbyists and industries they represent may have changed, the influence of one company, Google, has arguably only deepened during Obama’s eight years in office.
One of the cornerstones of President Obama’s first campaign was limiting the influence of lobbyists and special interests. He promised on numerous occasions that lobbyists would not run his White House, and criticized Senator McCain on the campaign trail for his ties to special interests.
“We need a president who sees government not as a tool to enrich friends and high-priced lobbyists, but as the defender of fairness and opportunity for every American,” Obama remarked in a May 2008 town meeting.v
Similarly, Google’s Chairman Eric Schmidt has professed shock at how corporate influence was exercised in Washington. “The average American doesn’t realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists,” he said in 2010. “It’s shocking how the system actually works.”vi
Notwithstanding their statements, Google’s extraordinary level of access to the White House is testament to the company’s unusually close relationship with the Obama administration.
Google’s proximity to the Obama administration has been remarked upon since its earliest days.vii Eight years later, however, the relationship between Google and Obama has developed to become broader and deeper than anyone could then have imagined, encompassing an enormous variety of basic government functions.
An in-depth examination of the visitor logs shows the extent to which Google has enmeshed its own corporate interests with those of the U.S. government. In many respects, the relationship is so close it’s often difficult to determine exactly where the federal government ends and Google begins.
The Google Transparency Project has compiled a database of every meeting it could find between Google employees and White House officials. We invite the public to explore the data and suggest stories for the GTP and interested journalists and researchers to pursue.
i This dataset draws from meeting records released by the White House through February 15, 2016, covering meetings that occurred through October 31, 2015.
ii Now a unit of Alphabet Inc.
iii Likely topics can be inferred from the positions of those present at the meetings, as well as from public records requests.