(Fortune Magazine) -- No one can accuse President Barack Obama of cozying up to corporate America.
From his denunciations of Wall Street greed to his critiques of the auto manufacturers, Obama and his team have done little to disguise their mistrust of big business -- except when it comes to one very large, very influential technology company.
In Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), the $22-billion-a-year online-advertising Goliath, Obama appears to have found a corporate kindred spirit. Google executives, led by CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, are scary smart and supremely self-confident (much like the President himself), and despite their company's growing power, they depict themselves as advocates for consumers.
"What we shared is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up, not from the top down," Obama told Google employees during a 2007 visit to its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Indeed, two of Obama's economic tenets -- support for more U.S.-educated engineers and the expansion of Internet services to poor and rural areas -- grew out of a visit to Google headquarters in 2004, an encounter Obama recalls in his book "The Audacity of Hope."
Google managers and employees were some of the strongest supporters of candidate Obama, donating around $803,000 to his presidential campaign, according to the website OpenSecrets.org. Among corporate employees, only staffers at Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) and Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) gave more.
CEO Schmidt actively stumped for the candidate and served as an informal economic adviser during the campaign, and after Obama was elected, Schmidt and other Google executives forked over $25,000 apiece to help pay for the inaugural celebration.
Because the company and administration are so like-minded, it should come as no surprise that Google executives soon found themselves assuming roles in the Obama administration.
Nevertheless, Google's newfound access in Washington is striking for two reasons: Obama and his team pride themselves on maintaining a distance from corporations -- before taking office the President pledged to close the "revolving door" of industry executives who go on to regulate their former corporate peers.
Google, meanwhile, likes to portray its Washington operation as a quasi-academic resource that's above the political fray. Politicians and their staffers "are sometimes taken aback by the fact that we don't always act the way that other companies act," says Bob Boorstin, a former Clinton White House speechwriter who works on freedom of expression issues in Google's Washington, D.C., office. "What we offer is technological expertise ... It's a company that's a think tank, or a think tank that's a company."
Either Google is very naive about the way Washington works, or it thinks everyone else is.
Yet neither Obama's anticorporate leanings nor Google's anti-"politics as usual" culture has stopped the two camps from collaborating closely. Schmidt sits on Obama's Council of Science and Technology Advisers. Google employees acted as advisers to the Obama transition team -- in one case Google executive Sonal Shah actually led a meeting, to the surprise of at least one attendee -- and a handful of ex-Googlers have joined the administration in various roles.
The most visible appointee is Google's former head of global public policy, Andrew McLaughlin, who was named deputy chief technology officer in June. McLaughlin's appointment raised eyebrows -- in his previous role McLaughlin championed Google's policy goals. Now he'll be in a position to shape policy that affects Google's rivals. White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says McLaughlin's appointment complies with the letter and spirit of the ethics standards Obama imposes