Net Election

The Pampered Life of the Silicon Alley Lobbyist

Most people have heard of Silicon Valley, but fewer are familiar with Silicon Alley, the stretch of Manhattan south of 41st Street that has become a center for dot-com entrepreneurs. In January, Josh Isay, 30, became Washington’s first Silicon Alley lobbyist when he opened up a Washington office for DoubleClick Inc., the leading Web advertising firm.

Isay is a classic Washington hotshot, junior division. Prior to joining DoubleClick, he was chief of staff to New York Sen. Charles Schumer. Before that, Isay was press secretary to New York Public Advocate Mark Green. Both Schumer and Green have strong reputations as consumer-minded liberal crusaders. This might at first make Isay’s career switch from government to corporate lobbying seem like a sellout—especially when you consider that Isay turned down high-ranking jobs with presidential candidate Al Gore and Senate candidate Hillary Clinton to join DoubleClick. At this cultural moment, though, Isay may have opted not just for the higher-paying job, but the higher-status job, too.

Being a Silicon Alley lobbyist is nowadays perceived as different from being a lobbyist for anyone else, in two respects. Broadly speaking, it means being a lobbyist for the Internet, the business sector that is most beloved and least understood by Congress. This bestows a certain glamour. Indeed, Internet companies still debate whether consorting with grubby members of Congress is worth the indignity (though the emerging consensus is that it should be—Microsoft’s indifference toward Washington prior to being sued for antitrust violations being many people’s Exhibit A). To members of Congress, meeting with representatives of the fertilizer industry is an unpleasant necessity. Meeting with representatives of the Internet industry, on the other hand, is ennobling and edifying; it’s like going to the Kennedy Center to hear the National Symphony play a Bach cantata—only better, because the National Symphony doesn’t make campaign contributions. (Silicon Alley is rumored to be forming an industrywide political action committee, though Isay cautions, “There’s nothing up and running at this point.”)

Being a Silicon Alley lobbyist, as opposed to a Silicon Valley lobbyist, makes you an even rarer fish, because Silicon Alley’s economic importance is a more recent development. Isay is fond of telling members of New York’s congressional delegation (and just about anyone else who’ll listen) that of the last 300,000 jobs created in New York, fully one-third were high-tech. Indeed, according to a study prepared by PriceWaterhouseCoopers for the New York New Media Association, there are now more New Yorkers employed full-time by new media firms (104,665) than in the advertising and publishing industries combined. Isay sees his job in large part as “kind of building New York’s high-tech brand.”

The issues Isay spends most of his time on include taxation (that boils down largely to the question of whether Internet commerce should be taxed three years from now, five years from now, or never—DoubleClick supports the three-year moratorium); Internet privacy (the Federal Trade Commission is threatening to regulate the ability of DoubleClick’s clients to collect information about Internet surfers, though the White House and Congress appear to be dead set against the idea); H-1B visas (the high-tech community wants, and will probably get, many more of these temporary guest-worker visas for foreign employees, though industry big shots Linus Torvalds, Steve Wozniak, and Esther Dyson have called for more permanent-residency green cards instead); and the shortage of available office space in New York City (Schumer and Robert Rubin, the former U.S. Treasury secretary, co-chair a committee looking into this, one of whose members is Isay’s boss, DoubleClick CEO Kevin O’Connor. Though it’s possible that the current dot-com shakeout will solve this problem by itself.).

Oddly enough, neither Isay nor DoubleClick has registered with the Senate’s Office of Public Records, as Chatterbox presumed all individuals and/or firms who lobby must. Isay says that’s because “I don’t spend that much time lobbying, frankly.” (By law, you aren’t required to register as a lobbyist if your lobbying activities constitute less than 20 percent of the work you do for your employer or client. Right now, Isay isn’t permitted to—and, he says, he doesn’t—lobby Schumer at all.) Isay says he currently spends nearly all his time in New York, though he has offices and apartments in both New York and D.C. Such, apparently, is the cosseted life of the Silicon Alley lobbyist that you can strictly limit the time you spend in the swamps of Washington and don’t even have to call yourself a lobbyist at all.