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K Street Files: Google’s Stance Causes Identity Crises

An increasingly nasty fight over bills to stop online piracy has gripped the attention of Google’s outside lobbyists. But there’s something else worth watching, too.

In some cases, the tech giant’s contract firms also represent groups or companies that don’t see the piracy bills the same way.

While they aren’t lobbying both sides of the same measure, some K Streeters do have clients that disagree on the Stop Online Piracy Act or the Protect IP Act — two bills that Google has told Congress in a letter “would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites.”

Google’s side also has said the bills could lead to online censorship, but content providers and other SOPA supporters say legislation is needed to crack down on websites that hawk pirated goods.

In one case, according to lobbying disclosures filed with Congress, the high-tech lobbying boutique Franklin Square Group represents Google and the pro-SOPA Entertainment Software Association, the video game lobby. Franklin Square declined comment, and the ESA did not respond to an inquiry for comment.

“All of our lobbying activities are filed in compliance with lobbying disclosure laws and are public information,” Google spokeswoman Samantha Smith said in an email.

Another outside firm for Google, the large law and lobbying shop Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, does work for the Motion Picture Association of America, which backs SOPA.

McBee Strategic Consulting also counts Google and Time Warner, which some grass-roots advocates have boycotted for the company’s support of SOPA, as clients.

Lobbyists say that such arrangements usually include “Chinese firewalls” between the clients.

There’s a PAC for That

Attention lobbyists: Are you fiscally conservative and socially liberal? Well, there’s a PAC for that — almost.

Michael Barron, a retired executive from Pepco and Atlantic Energy, is behind a new political action committee dubbed the New Independent Party, which he said would “create a magnet to pull politics toward the center.”

The PAC does not intend to run its own third-party candidates — “at least not initially,” according to its website at — nor does it plan to act as a “shadow group for one or the other of the political parties,” Barron said.

“It’s basically organized as a super PAC with a centrist political agenda for folks who are fiscally conservative, economically conservative and socially liberal or progressive or libertarian,” he explained. “There’s a big focus in the platform on questions of tax policy, on health care policy, on Social Security, on the major entitlement programs — the things that are central to the budget and deficit debates that are going on.”

He said the organization is still working out the specifics on the issues and is actively trying to recruit members for its board of governors. The goal is to reach 100,000 members.

The impetus behind the new group, Barron added, was a “feeling that the two major political parties had become so polarized that action to deal with important national issues didn’t seem to be happening.”

He added: “We basically want to educate people around what we believe are reasonable centrist solutions to major political issues.”

Real World: K Street

After a brief spin through the reverse-revolving door back to Capitol Hill, Kirt Johnson has returned to K Street. Just in time for plenty of upcoming tax policy fights, Johnson has joined the Retail Industry Leaders Association as vice president for tax policy.

“Obviously, the big one for everybody is the discussion on tax reform,” said Johnson, who previously ran his own tax lobbying boutique KCJ Consulting and also was with the federal tax policy group at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Nothing’s likely to actually happen this year, but the discussions and the way people position themselves might help set up what happens next year. It’s important to understand the perspective of our members on tax reform and convey that to the policymakers.”

The recent chief of staff to Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), who was once on MTV’s “Real World,” will also lobby on RILA’s No. 1 priority: a bill to compel online retailers to charge customers for state sales tax.

“The brick-and-mortar guys are paying the sales tax, and the Internet guys aren’t,” Johnson said. “That’s an inequity in the market.”

As for his recent stint on the Hill, Johnson, 53, said: “It’s a lot younger. But that’s kind of fun, too. Being on the Hill is kind of like being on campus.”

Eliza Newlin Carney contributed to this report. Submit K Street Files tips here.

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