(Source: Occupy Austin)
Paying off America's corrupt politicians beats any (legal) investment in the world with a 220-to-1 ROI

Today in the U.S. cash is king and nowhere is that more true then in Washington D.C.  Spend a dollar on bonds and you get roughly 5 cents back over the course of a year.  Spend that same dollar on stocks and you get roughly ten cents back for a year, on average [source].  But spend that same dollar on paying off a federal politician, and you receive an estimated $220 USD, on average, according to peer-reviewed study by Raquel Alexander and Susan Scholz of the University of Kansas School of Business.  

I. Pay to Play

Whichever viewpoint they choose to hold, tech companies appear well aware of this reality.

In Q3 2013 lobbying expenditures of top tech firms continued to rise.  On average, among top tech firms, lobbying rose 24 percent, and the eleven largest lobbying companies in the pure tech industry (i.e. not including defense contractors like Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) or industrial firms like General Electric Comp. (GE)) spent close to $24.5M USD in Q3 2013.

The dirty almost dozen (11) (with change versus Q3 2012 listed), according to federal data analyzed by Consumer Watchdog were:
  1. AT&T Inc. (T)                               -- ~$4,300,000 USD -- (up 23 percent)

                                           [Image Source: BGR]
  2. Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) -- ~$4,204,000 USD -- (up 1 percent) *

    Verizon Store
                                           [Image Source: Hot Cell Phones]
  3. Google Inc. (GOOG)                     -- ~$4,200,000 USD -- (down 21 percent)

  4. Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)                  -- ~$2,200,000 USD -- (up 20 percent)

    Microsoft gold sign
                                          [Image Source: BGR]
  5. Facebook Inc. (FB)                        -- ~$1,400,000 USD -- (up 47 percent)

                                          [Image Source: The Guardian]
  6. Oracle Corp. (ORCL)                      -- ~$1,360,000 USD -- (down 4 percent)

    Oracle building
                                          [Image Source: Reuters]
  7. Int'l Business Machines Corp. (IBM) -- ~$1,180,000 USD -- (up 16 percent)

    IBM sign
                                          [Image Source: Andrew Havis]
  8. Intel Corp. (INTC)                         --   ~$980,000 USD -- (up 12 percent)

    Intel sign
                                          [Image Source: etechmag]
  9. Apple, Inc. (AAPL)                          --   ~$970,000 USD -- (up 111 percent)

  10. Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO)           --    ~$890,000 USD -- (up 17 percent)Cisco logo

  11., Inc. (AMZN)              --   ~$780,000 USD -- (up 42 percent)

                                          [Image Source: AP]
* including Verizon Wireless, which is now solely owned by Verizon Communications

Rent to Damn High
"This is politics as usual, playing the silly game." -- Jimmy McMillan [Image Source: AP]

II. The Hand Giveth

Companies lobbied for a variety of reasons -- many of which seem to be matters of blatant federal corruption.

Some larger companies lobbied to dissuade lawmakers from pursuing antitrust actions -- especially in cases where their actions could be construed as stomping on smaller competitors and abusing a dominant position.  This is thought to be why Google's lobbying reached record levels in 2012.  Incidentally in the U.S. Google got off with a relative slap on the wrist for supposed antitrust violations.

Payroll tax cut
Lobbying helps corporations cash in with record profits. [Image Source: CNBC]

Another major reason to lobby is to gain special tax loopholes, which can be written in as line items on miscellaneous legislation or as part of a more general tax policy.   Donations can also help convince lawmakers to overlook sheltering profits in low-tax countries like Ireland, Luxembourg, and the Caribbean.  Google, Apple, Facebook, and others have all suffered from accusations of tax dodging both via their actions in the U.S. and via sheltering assets overseas.

GE -- not on the list as it's not considered a "pure tech company" -- is the poster child of such efforts receiving $3.2B USD out of the pockets of U.S. taxpayers in 2011, while paying no tax on the $14.2B USD it made in pure profit.

Another common reason is to lobby to try to increase a company's chance of scoring federal contracts.  Oracle, IBM, Cisco, and Amazon, have all scored major contracts supplying equipment for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and various other federal agencies.  They're also suspected of receiving billions in contracts from the intelligence community, which spends a lot of that money to spy on the American taxpayer.  The best information on those accounts comes from various leaks, as the government typically does not disclose finer details of intelligence spending.

Congress bribes
Congress today is a vehicle driven by lobbyists. [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

The problematic part is that it's impossible to characterize tech industry lobbying as solely evil, as it often is used to promote corporate causes that seem on some level to benefit consumers.  Part of the money spent by companies like Google, Verizon, and AT&T's is to promote special interest viewpoints that benefit the consumer -- such as opening up unused wireless spectrum, promoting greater internet freedom, or fighting patent trolling.

Of course this "benefit" is a somewhat artificial one.  In a utopian government, federal politicians would already consult technical expertise in the private sector before passing any sort of legislation that affects the tech industry, and decisions would be made with the intent of maximizing benefits for the consumer.  Lobbying's "benefits" with respect to technology firms stem solely from the fact that federal politicians are often ignorant of technical realtiesuncaring of consumer freedoms, and also paid by malicious smaller special interests.

III. Twitter is Among the Only Tech Firms to Lobby Transparently

While lobbying at best can thus be used as a flawed art, one company at least showcased a praise-worthy system in Q3 -- Twitter.  Ahead of its upcoming initial public offering (IPO) Twitter spent $40,000 USD on lobbying this last quarter.  But unlikely nearly every other tech company, it actually filed a clear and succinct accounting of its lobbyist spending in its mandatory federal filing, which most companies just fill with boilerplate nonsense.

Among the bills or efforts it said it spent money promoting:
Among the efforts it spent money to fight or reform were:
General Electric
[Image Source: Mashable]

In other words, Twitter has released what amounts to strong evidence that its spending has mirrored spending by civil liberties groups.  This contrasts with other firms that leave their spending reason a mystery in their federal filings.  More often than not that shroud of secrecy is designed to obfuscate the fact that lobbying is today putting record amounts of money in the pockets of these firms, while slowly function to erode America's middle class.

Again, it's unfortunate Twitter had to spend this money in the first place -- as if the government's goal was to benefit its citizens, it would probably have taken all the positions Twitter had.  But in America, Americans' prosperity and freedoms often come last on the agenda of federal politicians, far behind the hungry and ever-growing pack of special interests.

Source: Consumer Watchdog

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton

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