It is my opinion that legislators' time spent on facebook, twitter and such is time spent campaigning and away from what they were elected to do. -And if they argue that, 'properly', it is staff work, then it is staff too that is accessory to that waste -Democracy in Action!
February 3, 2011 Los Angeles Times
Facebook, already ubiquitous in Washington, aims to beef up its lobbying power
Almost every player in the nation's capital is hooked in to the social networking giant. But it still has catching up to do in making its influence count.
By Jim Puzzanghera and Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Washington and San Francisco —
"It's helpful that I'm more familiar with their issues than I might be with the issues of certain other groups, but I still make all of my decisions based on the Constitution and what I think is the appropriate decision for all of my constituents," Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said.
Still, Amash, 30, is an unabashed Facebook fan. As a Michigan state legislator, Amash used Facebook to explain his every vote. And like many politicians, he credited his Facebook page with helping him connect with voters and win his race for Congress.
The goodwill Facebook already had with Amash got a boost when the company invited him last month to discuss his experiences in a new video series called Facebook DC Live. Amash and Facebook's Washington office both touted the interactive chat on their Facebook pages.
Sitting on a bright yellow couch in the company's small D.C. office, Amash gushed about Facebook.
"It's really bringing people together," Amash told the audience watching the live streamed chat. "It's connecting our world and connecting our society, and it's really transforming the way we interact."
Despite such support, Facebook's treatment of its users' personal information has come under increasing scrutiny in Washington.
"I love Facebook," said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who regularly updates his page from his iPad. "But the consistent item they run into trouble with is disclosing information to third parties for the economic benefit of Facebook."
Last spring, Begich and three other senators wrote to Zuckerberg complaining about a pilot program that shared users' personal information with three outside websites. Facebook made changes about a month later.
But privacy advocates said there were still problems. Last fall, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote to Zuckerberg with 18 detailed questions about a series of reported privacy breaches that involved personally identifiable information from millions of Facebook users being transmitted to third-party applications.
And on Wednesday, Barton and Markey fired off another letter to Zuckerberg, expressing concerns about Facebook's plans to share user addresses and mobile phone numbers with developers and websites.
"I don't know what it is about Facebook and privacy," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "It's like a mosquito to a light."
The issue promises to heat up this year after the government released two long-awaited reports in December.
Facebook, which said it gives its users the ability to control the privacy of their data, hasn't taken public positions on those proposals yet. But it is gearing up its Washington presence to match its growing influence as the world's most popular social network, with more than 600 million users.
The company hired its first Washington employee in 2007: Adam Conner, a young former Capitol Hill aide who worked out of his home. Two years later Tim Sparapani, a former privacy expert with the ACLU, came aboard and the company opened a Washington office — shared space on the third floor of a weathered brick building in Dupont Circle, above a clothing store.
Facebook recently added its seventh Washington staffer and plans to hire more as it moves into a larger office this spring much closer to Capitol Hill. The office is headed by Marne Levine, who came aboard last year after working as chief of staff to former top Obama economic adviser Larry Summers.
Facebook also has tapped the Washington expertise of two executives in Palo Alto. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg worked for the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration. And general counsel Ted Ullyot worked at the White House and Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration.
Despite its high-profile team, Facebook still isn't in the big leagues when it comes to lobbying payroll. Facebook spent $351,390 on Washington lobbying last year, compared with Google's $5.2 million and Microsoft's $6.9 million. Facebook has two registered lobbyists on staff — Sparapani and Conner. Google has 11 and Microsoft 16.
Google and Microsoft, along with most other large companies, also have political action committees to allow executives to funnel campaign contributions to the most influential lawmakers. PACs are particularly important in the high-tech industry to balance out the largely Democratic leanings of employee contributions.
In the 2010 election cycle, for example, Facebook employees gave about 80% of their $50,470 in federal campaign contributions to Democrats, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Google had a similar heavily Democratic tilt in the $936,800 given by its employees, but its PAC helped offset that by giving 46% of its $313,000 in contributions to Republicans.
So far, Facebook has no plans to launch a PAC.
"I think we benefit from the fact that so many of the people we want to have a conversation with are already using the product," Sparapani said. "So writing checks might not be as necessary for us, and I think we're lucky in that sense."
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