From the Data

Johanna Shelton: 128 White House Meetings

Google’s 'Ambassador' to the White House enjoys unrivaled access

Johanna Shelton, Google’s director of public policy, is a little-known figure even in Washington policy circles. But she emerges from GTP’s data analysis as a key liaison between Google and the Obama White House, participating in the largest number of meetings of any corporate lobbyist employed by the top 50 lobbying spenders in the U.S.

Shelton acts as an unofficial company ambassador to the White House, shepherding top Google executives to meetings with President Obama and his top aides and sitting-in on policy meetings with other White officials on a surprisingly wide variety of topics.

Since President Obama took office in 2009, Shelton has visited the White House on 128 separate occasions.i Excluding large events, she has taken part in more than 94 meetings at the White House involving 48 different White House officials, on issues central to Google’s business, such as intellectual property, patents, antitrust and telecommunications policy.ii

Shelton’s ubiquitous presence in the White House has included:

  • Four meetings with President Obama
  • 13 meetings with David Edelman, the White House’s senior advisor for technology and economic policy
  • 12 meetings with intellectual property enforcement coordinator Victoria Espinel
  • 9 meetings with White House chief technology officers, and several other meetings with key officials from Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisors, and the National Economic Council.

Shelton enjoys unrivaled access to the Obama White House. According a GTP analysis, she has visited on more occasions than any other corporate lobbyist in America by a wide margin. The next most frequent visitor logged 75 meetings.iii

Shelton made more visits to the White House than 18 of the top 50 lobbying spenders combined. She visited the White House more than two-and-a-half times as often as Microsoft’s top lobbyist or Comcast’s David Cohen, who is widely reported to have close connections to the Obama White House. She has participated in meetings at the White House almost eight times as often as Silicon Valley rivals Amazon and Facebook.iv

Other industries managed a fraction of the access enjoyed by Google. Shelton had more visits than the top White House lobbyists of the entire telecom and cable industry combined (124 visits). She single-handedly had more White House meetings than all the lobbyists from Big Oil companies (101 visits) or defense industries (89 visits.) The full table is included below:

Shelton serves as an unofficial “goodwill ambassador” for Google at the White House, also helping the administration with its public relations needs. She is often present at YouTube and Google+ Hangout video tapings with President Obamav, bringing Google Science Fair winners to the White House to meet with OSTP science officialsvi, and arranging meetings between Google Glass engineers and OSTP’s John Holdren.vii  [See Obama YouTube story]

Shelton joined Google in June of 2007, having previously served as senior counsel to the House Energy & Commerce Telecommunications Subcommittee and, before that, as legal advisor to FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

Several key meetings suggest the extent of Google’s policy and political influence with the Obama White House. In addition to the issues listed above, Shelton also participated in several meetings around key moments in the FTC’s antitrust case.

  • On December 12, 2011, while the FTC’s antitrust investigation of Google was underway, Shelton and Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker met with Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.viii
  • A day later, on December 13, 2011 Shelton and David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, met with Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president.ix
  • On April 17, 2012, Shelton, Hunter Walk, Google’s director for product management, and Courtney Snowden, a Raben Group lobbyist, met with White House Domestic Policy Counsel Steve Robinson.x  Google had retained the Raben Group and 11 other lobbying firms a year earlier in July of 2011 to help on the company’s FTC antitrust matter.xi
  • On June 5, 2012, Shelton and Kent Walker met with White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Danny Weitzner.xii
  • Two days later, on June 7, 2012, Shelton and Walker met with Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.
  • On June 21, 2012, Shelton and Drummond met with National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling.xiii
  • On October 31, 2012, Shelton and Google Competition Counsel Matthew Bye met with OSTP Senior Internet Adviser David Edelman. Before joining Google, Bye worked in the FTC general counsel’s office where he advised on antitrust matters. He also formerly served in the antitrust practice at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Washington, DC.xiv  Bye served as Google’s outside counsel on the company’s antitrust investigations before the FTC, Texas and elsewhere.xv
  • Two weeks later on November 13, 2012, Shelton and Bye met again with David Edelman in the White House.xvi

What the Data Suggest

Shelton’s extraordinary access is testament to the open-door policy enjoyed by Google in the Obama White House. According to data compiled for the GTP, no other company or industry enjoys a comparable level of access.