Where companies don’t want to be the face of their agenda, however, industry bodies often come in handy. Trade organizations such as CII, Ficci, Nasscom, and IAMAI, are among the most prominent. According to internal papers from Facebook, which came to light due to whistleblower Francis Haugen’s revelations, the company used IAMAI—an industry body that represents Google, Facebook, and other internet businesses—as a front to pressure India’s election commission into adopting a more liberal ‘voluntary code of ethics’ before the 2019 general elections.
With policy teams typically being small, however, the actual grunt work when it comes to influencing policy is typically outsourced to agencies such as Chase India, McLarty Associates, Albright Stonebridge, and Dua Consulting. Some of these firms do this by enlisting public figures (including retired judges, former top officials, and politicians) to champion causes through ghost-written letters to the government, op-eds in newspapers or white papers.
The problem is deep within the company
These “champions” are also often invited to speak at conferences or news debates. A couple of years ago, the contracts awarded to these policy and lobbying firms were in the range of $100,000-$150,000 a year, according to industry executives who spoke with The Ken. Big fish All of this, of course, is masterminded by a small circle of public policy elites who have mastered the art of influencing the government. Das was the prototype for this position.
She joined Facebook after a seven-year stint at Microsoft India, where she served as director of public policy. As Facebook went from strength to strength in the country, Das’ profile grew. As an early hire, she also had direct access to Facebook’s global leadership.
Mind The Business
According to industry sources, Das’ reputation as a hard-nosed operator adept at getting things done saw her tasked with managing regions beyond just India.
Aggarwal, Das’ replacement, steps into a markedly different role. While the job now has a narrower focus—just India—and Aggarwal reports to the country head, he will still play a similar role to Das. “Even as tech is not Rajiv’s forte, his civil service background comes in handy when dealing with bureaucrats and politicians,” said an executive with a US tech company. His influence will be doubly important given Haugen’s revelations about how Facebook lobbied the election commission through IAMAI.
It’s bigger than the issue
Another influential figure in the public policy space is Krishnaswamy. His stint at Google was controversial to say the least. “Chetan used to rely on Chase India quite a lot,” said the first former Google executive quoted above. Between 2017 and 2019, funds assigned for advocacy on data protection to external agencies were utilized to pay for things—particularly, travel—which went beyond the scope of the purchase order, said a highly placed source aware of the matter. “By company norms, travel approval requests are raised separately, and are directly paid by the company,” said the first former Google executive. Rarely if ever is the purchase order of a third-party organization used to fund a staffer’s travel.
However, this is a potential way to get around questions from Google’s internal compliance teams. While this seems like a minor offense, it effectively amounts to the violation of the US FCPA, especially when it involves public functionaries, said the highly placed source aware of the matter.