One recurring theme from many large companies is that Apple doesn’t act like other enterprise technology companies. It’s a common complaint that CIOs and IT leaders have been making for years. As Apple products have entered more and more businesses, the refrain has gotten louder.
According to Politico, Apple treats lawmakers in Washington in much the same way, which is causing similar reactions in the halls of Congress. While Apple may be able to shrug off concerns about its approach to businesses, it may not be so lucky when it comes Washington insiders.
In the business world, Apple can afford to buck the traditional relationship between vendor and customer. Apple’s products are so iconic and popular that businesses are forced to support iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks even if Apple doesn’t give large companies product roadmaps and leaves a fair amount of enterprise integration up to third-parties.
In Washington, however, Apple doesn’t have that kind of grassroots insistence. In fact, the situation with lawmakers is almost the opposite. Apple’s incredible success and the ubiquity of its products make it a perfect scapegoat for lawmakers on either side of the aisle looking to highlight anything from privacy, anti-trust measures, and the outsourcing and offshoring of American wealth and jobs.
Apple does have a lobbying group, but it’s pretty small and underfunded compared to other tech giants like Google and Microsoft. 10 tech companies outspend Apple on lobbying efforts with Google spending the most – $5 million compared to Apple’s $500,000 during the first quarter of 2012.
Politico interviewed several figures in Washington which included comments from Jeff Miller, who served as a senior aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee.
I never once had a meeting with anybody representing Apple. There have been other tech companies who chose not to engage in Washington, and for the most part that strategy did not benefit them.
It’s worth noting that Google and Microsoft both once had very hands-off relationships with beltway insiders, something that changed after various inquiries and investigations.
While others didn’t paint quite so grim a picture, they did point out that Apple is missing out on chances for what Bill Kovacic, a law professor who served on the Federal Trade Commission, called “de-biasing visits” – ways for Apple to get its voice and point of view heard in the midst of patent battles and the anti-trust suit brought by the Department of Justice regarding Apple’s iBookstore.
Of course, Apple isn’t completely silent in Washington. It recently added Walt Kuhn, a former aide to Sen. Lindsey Graham, to its small lobbying team (Kuhn is the fourth team member). It also works with contract lobbyists in both Democrat and Republican camps. And, as GigaOm’s Erica Ogg pointed out, Steve Jobs did build a close rapport with the president.
At this point it’s hard to say if Apple will ultimately be hurt by being so hands-off in Washington or not. It’s also too soon to tell if Apple will change its approach to lawmakers with Tim Cook at the helm. Ultimately, however, as the company gains a higher profile, it’s likely to find that it needs to be more active in lobbying and advocacy efforts.