Apple’s low-key lobbying efforts no surprise

Politico has a great post Wednesday that details how folks in Washington, D.C. are rather astonished how Apple (s aapl)–a company that’s often the target of federal inquiries and investigations– isn’t blanketing Capitol Hill with lobbyists and money. Sure, that seems to go against standard procedure in our nation’s capital. But as is well known in tech, Apple isn’t a company that tends to follow standard procedures.

For the first quarter of 2012, Apple has spent a mere $500,000 on lobbying efforts, which, as Politico points out, is pennies compared to what oft-targeted Google(s GOOG) and Microsoft(s MSFT) have spent during the same time: $7 million combined. And Apple, despite its current entanglement with the Department of Justice over its role in the e-books market, has actually spent less this year than last year.

This is just not how things are done in D.C. Here’s a sampling of what Washington insiders told Politico:

  • “I never once had a meeting with anybody representing Apple,” said Jeff Miller, who served as a senior aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee for eight years. “There have been other tech companies who chose not to engage in Washington, and for the most part that strategy did not benefit them.”
  • “There’s a difference between being quiet and uncooperative,” said a congressional aide who has dealt with Apple. “Part of the problem being behind the scenes is they have no identity. They have no corporate identity in this town because nobody knows them.”
  • “What’s happened in Washington more and more is that companies spend money dealing with the regulators even in the absence of pending investigations. … These are de-biasing visits,” said Bill Kovacic, a George Washington University law professor who was a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission from 2006 to 2011. “I don’t remember Apple making a visit.”

While this may surprise political folks, this will come as a shock to few people in tech or who follow Apple. The company’s secrecy and reticence to telegraph what it’s thinking is legendary. So it’s no surprise Apple isn’t visibly mixing it up in Washington when, as Adam Lashinsky noted in his “Inside Apple” book released earlier this year, Apple doesn’t even mingle freely in its own backyard: employees aren’t visible at Silicon Valley mixers or events, executives don’t sit on other companies’ boards, and they don’t make a show of going out of their way to make any potential friends or gain partners.

Some get it. As one unnamed source told Politico, it could look really bad if they weren’t subtle about trying to gain political influence: “‘It wouldn’t take much to hit the tripwire’ to launch the narrative that ‘Apple has problems and is trying to buy the town.’”

This is not to say Apple won’t step up its lobbying game. It does have a small office for that purpose in D.C., but the way it tries to gain sway over politicians certainly won’t follow any pre-defined script established by other companies — even other tech companies.

And you could say Steve Jobs was plenty savvy about wielding influence in Washington: he just went straight to the top. Sending the president the world’s most anticipated new gadget before it was available to the public is a pretty decent way of making friends.

Thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user Mr. T in DC