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Silicon Valley's Army of Advocates in Washington

Lobbyists and advocates help tech companies navigate the mystifying world of Washington in an effort to keeping innovation flourishing.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

When it comes to squashing the dreams of starry-eyed entrepreneurs, nothing beats Washington, D.C., where even the strong don’t always survive.

It’s easy to ignore regulators and lawmakers when you’re a tiny startup in a WeWork space. But there may come a time in the life of a (successful) startup when the realization dawns that the company is about to get screwed over by Washington in a way that could actually hurt revenue.

That moment can hit relatively early in a company’s life (see: Uber, Lyft, Airbnb) or late (see: Microsoft circa 1993). But when it does, even Silicon Valley’s largest companies can find themselves at the mercy of cynical twentysomething congressional aides and their technologically clueless bosses.

Industry incumbents regularly try to convince their friends in Congress or regulatory agencies to stifle new competitors and protect their businesses. It’s hard to succeed when you’re in the capital’s cross hairs. But the people on this list are among the lobbyists and advocates helping tech companies — large and small — navigate the mystifying world of Washington in an effort to keep innovation flourishing.


 Josh Ackil and Matt Tanielian of Franklin Square Group
Josh Ackil and Matt Tanielian of Franklin Square Group
Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Josh Ackil and Matt Tanielian

Franklin Square Group

Background: These two former Hill staffers launched a boutique lobbying shop in 2008 to focus solely on tech. Ackil served in the Clinton White House’s office of legislative affairs for two years after working for then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Tanielian left Cisco’s lobbying shop to co-found the firm. Earlier in his career, he worked for then-Sen. Robert Torricelli on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Political Affiliation: While both are Democrats, their firm is bipartisan, and has two Republican lobbyists with lots of ties to Capitol Hill.

Clients: Apple, Belkin, Cisco, EMC, Intuit, Google, Intel, Square and Uber

Recent Work: Given the firm’s clients, you’d be hard-pressed to find an issue important to the tech industry that Ackil and Tanielian haven’t worked on — from patent reform to curbing the U.S. intelligence community’s mass surveillance programs. Franklin Square might be the go-to firm for startups that don’t need their own in-house lobbyists, but it still attracts business from Silicon Valley giants like Google and Apple. The company recently expanded its services with the addition of Rob Haralson, a veteran tech-policy public relations guy.


 Michael Beckerman of the Internet Association
Michael Beckerman of the Internet Association
Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Michael Beckerman

Internet Association

Background: There was little doubt Beckerman would land well after leaving Capitol Hill. He’d been there for 12 years, spending much of that time with Republican Fred Upton of Michigan, now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees tech and telecom issues. Even now, Beckerman’s corner office is painted a similar shade of dark green as the rooms of his old congressional stomping grounds.

Political affiliation: Republican

Recent work: There’s no shortage of tech industry groups, but the Internet Association stands out not just because of its growing Internet company member base — which includes Airbnb, Etsy, Snapchat and Amazon — but because it is increasingly becoming the voice for members (particularly Google and Facebook) who would rather avoid commenting individually on controversial regulatory or political issues. Beckerman has used a mix of old-school Washington lobbying — the annual charity dinner honoring key lawmakers, photo-op-heavy visits to lawmakers’ districts — with modern Internet-style politicking, complete with hashtags and social-media-friendly videos.


 LinkedIn’s Pablo Chavez
LinkedIn’s Pablo Chavez
Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Pablo Chavez

LinkedIn

Background: LinkedIn nabbed Chavez as its go-to guy in Washington from Google’s D.C. office, where he worked on a variety of issues for the search giant from 2006 through 2014. A Princeton and Stanford Law grad, Chavez is an alumni of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s office and the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees tech issues.

Political Affiliation: Republican

Recent work: Chavez has been taking a less-traditional route to helping establish LinkedIn’s presence in Washington, offering lawmakers and regulators a new view of the U.S. labor market through the Economic Graph, a collection of charts and maps with aggregated data on job listings and skills desired by employers which are posted on the professional social network. Offering decision makers more data on issues like local job skills gaps isn’t just a way of helping them do things like better tailor regional educational offerings, it’s also a nice way for LinkedIn to establish goodwill among lawmakers who spend much of their time trying to keep their jobs — not find new ones.



 Maria Cino at Hewlett-Packard’s D.C. office
Maria Cino at Hewlett-Packard’s D.C. office
Photo by Lance Rosenfield fo Re/code

Maria Cino

Hewlett-Packard

Background: A graduate of St. John Fisher College, Cino is a former Bush campaign operative and, later, a senior official at the U.S. Department of Transportation. She went into lobbying at Pfizer after running the show at the 2008 Republican National Convention. After losing a race to be named chairwoman of the Republican National Committee to current chairman Reince Priebus, she joined HP in August 2012 to run the company’s federal and state lobbying operations.

Political Affiliation: Republican

Recent work: The genial Cino — and HP, for the most part — generally flies under the radar in Washington. But there’s probably not a D.C. lobbyist who can get her calls returned faster than Cino, particularly by Republicans (who now control both houses of Congress). That’s important for a company like HP, which still sells a ton of equipment and services to the military and government agencies. This year, HP lobbyists have appealed to lawmakers on everything from patent reform and new cyber security laws to Medicare fraud and data center issues at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.


 Michael Drobac of Small UAV Coalition
Michael Drobac of Small UAV Coalition
Photo by Lance Rosenfield for Re/code

Michael Drobac

Small UAV Coalition

Background: Although he’s the executive director of the Small UAV Coalition (a.k.a. the drone guys), Drobac’s day job is senior policy adviser at Akin Gump, where he helps the firms’ tech clients, including Amazon and Expedia. A Stanford and London School of Economics grad, Drobac opened Netflix’s first D.C. lobbying office and also advocated on behalf of the Online Publishers Association and IAC/InterActiveCorp after leaving Capitol Hill, where he worked for former Republican Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, among others.

Political Affiliation: Republican

Recent work: Drone makers and would-be users who grew frustrated with the Federal Aviation Administration’s glacial pace at setting new rules turned to Drobac for help. In January, Drobac organized a two-day event on Capitol Hill, complete with a tech fair that allowed lawmakers and staffers to check out some small drones and a concert at a local D.C. club by the band OK Go, which used drones to film a video. A month later, the FAA released long-awaited proposed rules and, later, signaled a shift toward working closer with Amazon and drone makers on safety regulations.


 Fred Humphries of Microsoft
Fred Humphries of Microsoft
Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Fred Humphries

Microsoft

Background: The son of a former university president, Humphries graduated from Morehouse College and Temple University’s law school. Earlier in his career, he was one of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt’s policy aides. Humphries became Microsoft’s top federal lobbyist in 2008, after leading the company’s state lobbying operations for eight years.

Political affiliation: Democrat

Recent work: Electronic privacy issues have been front and center lately at Microsoft’s D.C. office. Efforts by U.S. agencies to access data stored abroad haven’t sat well with Microsoft, which operates data centers around the world and has been fighting a case involving a customer’s email stored in Ireland. Humphries and Microsoft’s lobbying team are pushing legislation that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant for Americans’ data stored abroad.


 Tekedra Mawakana in Yahoo’s Washington offices
Tekedra Mawakana in Yahoo’s Washington offices
Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Tekedra Mawakana

Yahoo

Background: Although she heads Yahoo’s D.C. office, Mawakana isn’t a lobbyist, and focuses much of her attention on global policy issues. She also took a more corporate route to where she is today. The Columbia Law School grad began her career at a D.C. law firm, doing intellectual property and telecom work before moving into a corporate counsel job at a mid-size Washington-area telecommunications company; later, she was deputy general counsel at AOL.

Recent work: Historically, Yahoo hasn’t kept the highest profile of tech companies in D.C., but that changed after Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA mass data surveillance. Under Mawakana, Yahoo’s Washington team has been helping lead Silicon Valley’s fight to get Congress to curb the practice.


 Susan Molinari at Google’s Washington headquarters
Susan Molinari at Google’s Washington headquarters
Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Recode.net

Susan Molinari

Google

Background: Molinari comes from a political family, and is probably best known as a former congresswoman from New York, one half of the Republican power couple with former congressman-turned-lobbyist Bill Paxon. Before joining Google, she advised clients for a few different lobbying firms, and was a regular commentator on political talk shows.

Political affiliation: Republican

Recent work: There are few forces in corporate lobbying bigger than Google. It’s one of the biggest spenders ($16.8 million last year). It throws the nicest parties and has the nicest office space — with an expansive dining room overlooking the Washington skyline and a hallway replica of a Capitol Hill office building. Molinari didn’t have much tech experience before joining Google. But she’s well known in Washington and helped the company with some Republicans who haven’t been thrilled about Google’s close ties with the Obama White House.


 Julie Samuels of Engine.is
Julie Samuels of Engine.is
Photo by Lance Rosenfield for Re/code

Julie Samuels

Engine

Background: Before helping launch Engine, Samuels was a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the “Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents.” Earlier in her career, she was a journalist in Washington, but left media behind for law school at Vanderbilt University.

Political Affiliation: Independent

Recent Work: It’s not easy to get startups to focus on Washington. But Samuels and the Engine team seem to have found the formula. Samuels rallied small Internet companies to push the Federal Communications Commission to pass strong net neutrality rules that would prevent Internet companies from discriminating against rivals. She got them to sign letters, meet with FCC officials in Silicon Valley, New York and Washington and, in the process, gave regulators real-life examples of companies that could be hurt if weak net neutrality rules were passed.


 Stewart Verdery of Monument Policy Group
Stewart Verdery of Monument Policy Group
Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Re/code
 Jessica Herrera-Flanigan of Monument Policy Group
Jessica Herrera-Flanigan of Monument Policy Group
Photo by Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Stewart Verdery

Jessica Herrera-Flanigan

Monument Policy Group

Background: Verdery founded Monument Policy in 2006, after leaving the Department of Homeland Security, where he served as its first head of policy and planning in the first few years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was a coup for the firm when Herrera-Flanigan joined in 2008 from the House committee that oversees the Department of Homeland Security. The Harvard Law grad had been the top Democratic staffer to oversee Homeland Security officials since shortly after the agency was formed in 2002. She also logged a stint in the Justice Department’s cyber crime team.

Political Affiliation: Republican (Verdery), Democrat (Herrera-Flanigan)

Clients: Amazon, Microsoft, NerdWallet, Zillow, Reform Government Surveillance

Recent Work: Herrera-Flanigan does much of the tech lobbying work for the firm, and in recent months, much of that focus has been on pending legislation to curb the NSA’s mass data collection program. They represent Reform Government Surveillance, a coalition made up of 10 tech giants, including Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, who want more limits on the government’s ability to collect user information.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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