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Google Denies Early Ad Deal for Obama Campaign


Shown here is an ad that appeared online in May 2011 and caught the attention of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

A Google spokesman vehemently denied Thursday that President Obama's 2012 campaign got early access to a new advertising program, claiming a sales rep who suggested as much was just plain wrong. 

The technology in question, called "cost-per-lead," charges clients for every time a piece of personal information is collected from users. A staff member at the National Republican Senatorial Committee thought he was looking at an early version of the program after he saw an Obama ad on the site RealClearPolitics last month and emailed Google about the possibility of getting in on the action. 

The sales rep did little to extinguish his notion, writing back to the NRSC claiming "select" clients had already signed up. 

"This is a pre-alpha product that is being released to a select few clients. I'd be happy to get you into the beta if you're interested," Google's Sirene Abou-Chakra wrote, according to an email sent to the NRSC and obtained by Abou-Chakra pegged the entry-level "commitment" for the program at $10,000-$15,000. 

The response raised a "red flag" at the NRSC, according to a spokesman, considering Google's ties to Obama. 

Google's former CEO Eric Schmidt is a member of the president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, and was an active Obama supporter during the 2008 election. Google money poured into the Obama campaign that year, with dozens of employees giving the maximum $2,300 donation. 

Schmidt has also reportedly been considered for an administration post, either as commerce secretary or chief technology officer. He has said he's not interested in an Executive branch job. 

But Schmidt's ties to the president remain close, so much so that last year, a transparency watchdog asked Congress to look into how the company got out of paying penalties to the Federal Trade Commission for a privacy breach that enabled Google to collect and store personal data of its users. Google vowed at the time to tighten its privacy practices.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told that the Obama campaign did not  purchase any of the "cost-per-lead" ads through Google. Google's press office also denied that the president's reelection effort got any early deal, considering the "cost-per-lead" program has not even been rolled out yet. 

Google spokesman Jake Parrillo said the ad spotted by the NRSC was absolutely not a Google ad. 

"We have never ... run or given away (cost-per-lead) ads to any political candidate," he said. "Full stop." 

Asked why the sales rep would have claimed a "pre-alpha product" was out on the market, he replied: "She made a mistake." 

Google apparently has been trying to clear the air after first reported on the email exchange with the NRSC. NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh told that Google has reached out to the committee to explain. 

"They claim this was a misunderstanding," Walsh said in an email. "We are currently examining that but certainly the appearance raises a red flag when you consider that Google executives have contributed almost a million dollars to President Obama's political campaigns."