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Key net neutrality supporters hire former government officials to lobby

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Two of the biggest proponents of net neutrality rules for broadband providers involved in closed door congressional committee negotiations have hired 112 former government officials to lobby as Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have both pushed new broadband Internet policies.

For the first three months of 2010, seventy-four percent of the lobbyists hired by both Google* and Microsoft have previous experience in government, according to data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics and lobbyist disclosure forms. This is a very similar number when compared to the percentage of former government officials hired to lobby for the top six telecommunications organizations.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation and the House Committee on Energy & Commerce are holding meetings with industry and consumer organizations in response to a series of actions by the FCC including a court decision that blocked the FCC's attempted implementation of net neutrality rules. Net neutrality rules would disallow broadband service providers from discriminating against users and content by preventing them from slowing access to certain users and charging money to acesss certain content.

The committees held their first meeting last Friday and plan to host another meeting on July 2.

Google and Microsoft are spending the most on lobbying among the pro-net neutrality organizations invited to the behind the scenes discussions with the two committees.

According to first quarter lobbying disclosures, the two companies have spent a combined $2.1 million on lobbying. By comparison, the two lobbying spenders opposed to net neutrality that were invited to the congressional meetings shelled out $10.5 million in the first quarter of 2010.

Despite spending far less than organizations opposed to net neutrality, Google and Microsoft have fielded a quality team of lobbyists with experience working for important lawmakers and on crucial committees.

Combined the companies have hired thirteen former staffers of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation or members of the committee and nine former staffers of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce or their members.

These lobbyists include Barry LaSala, the former chief of staff to the Senate committee's number two Democrat Sen. John Kerry, who lobbies for Microsoft. LaSala also lobbies for net neutrality opponent Verizon.

Andy Scott Wright, lobbying for Google, worked previously as the Chief of Staff to Rep. Rick Boucher, chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. Boucher is leading the meetings for the House Committee on Energy & Commerce.

The representatatives in the closed door congressional meetings for both Google and Microsoft have experience on the committees. Google’s Johanna Shelton previously worked on the House Committee on Energy & Commerce and Microsoft’s Paula Boyd used to work for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation.

Other Internet companies supporting net neutrality might be spending far less than Google and Microsoft, but they are also largely hiring former government officials to lobby for them.

Over eighty percent of the lobbyists retained by both eBay and Amazon.com—of these two only Amazon.com is engaged in the congressional meetings—have experience in government.

(*Disclosure: Google senior manager Kim Scott sits on the Advisory Board of the Sunlight Foundation. Kim Scott sits on the Advisory Board of the Sunlight Foundation, but no longer works for Google.)