PALO ALTO, U.S.-- SoftBank Group is beefing up its lobbying operations in Washington as its $100 billion Vision Fund makes huge bets in emerging U.S. tech sectors, including autonomous driving and fintech.
SoftBank registered four lobbyists in June, government filings show, including a former national security adviser to ex-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the director of legislative affairs in the office of former Vice President Joe Biden.
While SoftBank has previously used contracted lobbyists from outside firms, this is the first time it has registered its own in-house lobbyists. The company hired Ziad Ojakli, a former top lobbyist at Ford, last year to serve as its global government affairs officer. Ojakli has been building up the group's government affairs team in Washington, which currently has around 15 staff members and handles both U.S. and global government relationships, according to a SoftBank spokesperson.
The Japanese conglomerate spent $240,000 on lobbying in the second quarter of this year.
The group has been pushing for regulatory approval of a merger between Sprint, which it bought for $21.6 billion in 2013, and T-Mobile. A decision by the Department of Justice is expected to come as early as this week. Sprint Communication itself spent $740,000 on lobbying efforts in the last quarter, partly on the pending merger, according to public filings.
But those filings show that it also lobbied on issues such as export controls, fintech, autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, all key sectors the Japanese conglomerate has been heavily investing in through its Vision Fund. The fund has invested billions of dollars for stakes in U.S. startups like Cruise, the autonomous driving unit of General Motors, and lending platform Kabbage.
"Up through June we felt like there wasn't any need to register but now, as we started getting deeper into the issues and especially on behalf of some of our portfolio investments, we felt that it was time to at least start that," Ojakli said.
The newly registered lobby team is led by Brian Conklin, vice president of U.S. government affairs at SoftBank, who joined the company in October 2018. He previously worked at United Services Automobile Association for over 11 years and was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush.
SoftBank Group and Sprint Communications have already spent a total of more than $1.74 million on lobbying expenditures in the first half of the year.
In 2018, Softbank spent $3.51 million on lobbying, up from nearly $2.46 million in 2017. That is still well below the more than $10 million that big U.S. tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon each spent last year.
Nikkei staff writer Wataru Suzuki in Tokyo contributed to this article.