Consumer Groups, Shareholders Call for Google to Leave US Chamber of Commerce, Disclose Political Spending

At a press conference at Google’s Bay Area headquarters yesterday, when the company’s annual shareholder meeting was held, investors and public interest groups called for the tech giant to institute a policy to disclose its political spending and end its membership in the US Chamber of Commerce.

In a letter to the company Wednesday, Public Citizen said Google should be applauded for raising the international focus on the climate crisis, as well as for fighting SOPA and PIPA, both intellectual property bills that were criticized as regressive intrusions on privacy. But Public Citizen said the company’s continued membership in the Chamber runs the risk that “Google will be perceived as privately endorsing controversial policies and positions which it publicly claims to oppose.”

The Chamber has been an avid climate change denier and last year paid Scholastic to distribute coal-industry-authored curriculum on energy to 100,000 fourth-grade classrooms around the country. It has also lobbied heavily for CISPA, another cybersecurity bill condemned by civil liberties advocates that died in the Senate in April.

Two other public interest groups sent petitions that echoed Public Citizen’s concerns – in total over 295,000 people signed on to the effort.

“These lofty principles are the reason that a lot of people feel so connected to Google but there’s a lot of fear that what they say publicly is undermined privately,” said Jake Parent with Public Citizen’s US Chamber Watch division. Parent attended yesterday’s shareholders meeting and said Google’s Senior Vice President David Drummond gave a “surprising answer” to concerns about the company’s Chamber membership. “He said it’s actually something they debate and argue about all the time,” said Parent. “They feel conflicted between the company’s values and of course the ‘Don’t be evil’ slogan, and the stances of the Chamber.”

Two groups promoting socially and environmentally responsible investing sent their own letters to the company this week voicing similar concerns on behalf of over two dozen investment groups holding Google shares.

Public Citizen says Google should follow the lead of its competitors who have left the Chamber over conflicts on policy positions. Apple left in 2009 in response to the Chamber’s threats to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over its plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Internal policies vary widely among companies with transparency requirements for disclosure of political spending. Lisa Gilbert, who heads Public Citizen’s Congress Watch program, said Microsoft is known for its relatively transparent policies on certain kinds of contributions.

Outside spending in elections quadrupled between 2010 and 2012 after the Citizens United ruling cleared the way for corporations to privately donate unlimited sums to political candidates. The US Chamber of Commerce, whose name belies its status as a private trade group, spent more than $35 million in 2012.