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K Street Files: New Internet Group Uploads First CEO

A fledgling trade association for a collection of Internet companies has made its first hire in Michael Beckerman, a former deputy staff director of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Beckerman will serve as CEO of the Internet Association.

It will formally launch in September and, until then, is staying mum on its backers, though sources say Inc., eBay Inc., Facebook and Google Inc. are among the charter members.

“We’re starting out like any startup — a one-man operation out of a garage,” quipped Beckerman, who is currently searching for office space in D.C.

Also on his to-do list: hire a handful of staffers, set up phones and a bank account for the organization and look for additional outside consultants. The association already has public relations and lobbying firm HDMK on retainer.

It’s well worth the hassle, Beckerman said, to be in on the ground floor.

“It’s the most dynamic industry,” he added. “The Internet is the greatest economic engine of prosperity and job growth the world’s ever known.”

The technology industry already has several trade groups in Washington, D.C., and some lobbyists question the need for yet another, especially at a time when such organizations as Tech America, the Information Technology Industry Council and TechNet have explored merger possibilities.

But Beckerman said the Internet Association is unique.

“From my experience on the Hill, working on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over the Internet, there’s a trade association for just about any industry,” he said. “But there wasn’t a consensus organization in representing the Internet.”

Other tech groups’ members include companies that make software, hardware and network providers, said Beckerman, a longtime adviser to Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

The recently departed Hill aide will be subject to a one-year ban on lobbying the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Beckerman said lobbying will be a significant part of the association’s activities. He will also work on explaining how Main Street employers in every Congressional district rely on the Internet to grow their businesses, he said.

“We need to tell that story,” he said.

Beckerman declined to disclose the association’s budget or to discuss its policy positions. He said the debates over such bills as the Stop Online Piracy Act, which Internet companies such as Google fought with a massive and successful grass-roots effort, came after the new Internet Association was already in the works. But the debate — a “wake-up call to all the companies” — only solidified their interest in going forward, he said.

Sources familiar with the CEO search say it took many months, and some lobbyists were not interested because the pay was too low to attract a big-name former official or a well-paid, established K Streeter. But several of Beckerman’s colleagues on and off the Hill say the group has made a savvy hire.

“He knows the issues, but more importantly, he understands how the process works and has a direct line of communication with the players that make things happen here on the Hill,” said Mike Ference, a senior aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “I think it’s good that the industry chose a CEO that reflects the industry. … He’s got the right mix of policy expertise, political savvy and the relationships to back it up.”

And one downtown lobbyist said that because of the companies behind the effort, the Internet Association will have immediate political and policy clout. “The perception is that some of these companies can move mountains from a grass-roots standpoint and that fear, that respect is a very powerful thing,” this lobbyist noted.

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Janie Lorber contributed to this report.

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