Facebook execs gear up political influence arm

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 1, 2012 3:35pm EST

The Facebook logo is shown at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California May 26, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The Facebook logo is shown at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California May 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Preparing to join the ranks of publicly traded companies, Facebook Inc is also beefing up its presence in the U.S. capital with a first report of money pouring into its newly created political fundraising arm.

A latecomer to Washington, the social networking site is joining scores of powerful technology companies such as Microsoft Corp and Google Inc that have political action committees (PACs) used to raise funds for donations to political campaigns or causes.

The Facebook PAC, officially registered in December, last year raised just above $170,000, predominantly from Facebook's own executives and employees, according to its filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Co-founder and newly minted billionaire Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave $5,000, and so did investors Marc Andreessen, James Breyer, and Peter Thiel. Thiel last year also contributed to a so-called Super PAC Endorse Liberty that supports Ron Paul.

Facebook PAC also received $5,000 from Erskine Bowles, another member of the board of directors who was U.S. President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and helped lead a deficit-reduction panel last year.

The only spending the PAC did last year was on credit card and other processing fees, filings showed.

U.S. regulators are cracking down on Web giants they view as compromising user privacy to attract advertisers, and Facebook found itself in their crosshairs last year.

The company settled with the Federal Trade Commission, agreeing to be regulated for a period of 20 years whenever it decides to change its privacy policy.

In addition to privacy issues, Facebook has also thrown its hat into debates over patent reform, online piracy and cybersecurity, among other topics.

The company is readying for what is expected to be one of the largest U.S. market debuts in history with a $5 billion initial public offering.

Facebook significantly ramped up its Washington presence and spending last year as the company's practices attracted growing scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators, forcing the social networking site to beef up efforts to protect its interests.

The Menlo Park, California-based company added experienced political staffers to its Washington-based public policy team, including Joel Kaplan, former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush. Kaplan gave $5,000 to the PAC and is treasurer.

With a new powerhouse team in place, Facebook's lobbying expenditures skyrocketed in 2011 to $1.35 million from under $400,000 in 2010, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Still, the company's lobbying pales in comparison to larger tech firms with Google spending $9.68 million and Microsoft spending $7.34 million on federal lobbying in 2011.

A Facebook spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh and Jasmin Melvin; Editing by Richard Chang)

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