Politico

For every $1 Google spends lobbying, Apple spends 10¢

May 10, 2012: 7:01 AM ET

Is that really why Apple has become, per Politico, a "punching bag" for lawmakers? 

Click to enlarge. Source: Politico

FORTUNE -- I might feel differently about Apple's D.C. Lobbying Effort Has Yet to Ripen, the 1,450-word piece posted on Politico Wednesday, if I hadn't just listened to Take the Money and Run for OfficeThis America Life's brilliant hour-long expose of how Washington, D.C., influence peddling really works.

By the end of the radio piece (available as a podcast), it's clear to listeners that companies like Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) -- which together spent $8.4 million lobbying in just the first three months of 2012 -- don't chase lawmakers down the halls of power trying to buy their influence.

It's the other way around. The senators and congressmen chase after the lobbyists. Sent to Washington to make laws (or prevent them from being made) our elected officials have been reduced to full-time money-grubbers, alternatively begging and strong-arming political action committees (PACs) to meet fundraising quotas that get steeper every year.

So I take with a grain of salt Politico's contention that Apple's (AAPL) "hostility" to the process "may have brought extra attention."

For example, the piece describes as a "stinging preliminary finding" the ruling two weeks ago by a judge at the International Trade Commission that Apple may have violated one of four Motorola (MOT) patents related to Wi-Fi in the iPad and iPhone. Anyone following the iPhone patent wars knows that there are dozens of issues like that one before the ITC, and that Apple has won more than its share.

And while I have no doubt that both parties eye with lust Apple's $110 billion war chest of cash and marketable securities, the fact that it's not being spent on them is not the reason the company has become, in Politico's terms, "a punching bag for lawmakers who understand the power of using a marquee name to reinforce their arguments about American companies dodging taxes, hiring overseas and mistreating foreign workers."

Case in point: The shot Sen. Tom Coburn took at Apple on NBC's Morning Joe last week, declaring himself "livid" about the New York Times' report about the lengths to which Apple (like every other major American high-tech firm) goes to avoid paying taxes.

Coburn talks big about "closing loopholes," but he's all in favor of the so-called "repatriation holiday" that would allow Apple to bring home billions of dollars of overseas profits without paying the current 35% federal tax on foreign earnings. (See "Livid" about tax loopholes.)

If he thinks some of those iPhone profits are going to end up in his reelection fund, he's sadly mistaken.

As one source familiar with Apple's D.C. operations told Politico, "They don't have a massive table of consultants and law firms. It is more low key, but it is also respectful." The piece details several instances in which Apple quietly dropped apps or changed developer policies after they drew Washington's attention.

And as GigaOm's Erica Ogg points out, Steve Jobs was plenty savvy about how to wield influence in the nation's capital:

"He just went straight to the top. Sending the president [an iPad 2]  before it was available to the public is a pretty decent way of making friends."

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