Why Schmidt's Campaign Travels with Obama Could Be Bad for Google

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is hitting the campaign trail with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Search engine giant Google says Schmidt and Obama share similar views on technology, which makes me think Obama loves cloud computing, Web services, and the mobile and wireless Internet. Could it backfire if Republican presidential candidate John McCain wins the election? Sure could. Expect more stringent online privacy laws.

As I've already noted on my Google Watch blog today, Google CEO Eric Schmidt is hitting the campaign trail with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal his involvement stems from personal choice and is not intended to reflect Google's political views as a whole. A Google spokesperson in Washington confirmed this position, telling me today:

Eric is actively campaigning for Barack Obama because he believes that it is time for a change in America. In addition, his personal views on technology and energy are similar to Senator Obama's. Google of course remains neutral in the campaign.

But I can't help but wonder how such a move could backfire should Obama's running rival, Republican presidential candidate John McCain, come away victorious Nov. 4.
Where would that leave a company like Google, which needs to convince the government its search advertising practices do not violate privacy rules, and wants to keep the current privacy regulations from getting more stringent?
There's no question Google can't be partisan and must not align itself with any one party. Yet Google's Schmidt is permitted to consort with and cozy up to candidates to take their temperatures on technological issues that could impact their companies.
Not surprisingly, some political pundits think this could be a faux pas; despite Schmidt's and Google's claims to the contrary, some folks may choose to see Schmidt's endorsement as really being Google's endorsement.
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Central for Digital Democracy, told me:
Google has tremendous business before a potential Obama White House. For propriety's sake, Schmidt should have kept his personal politics private. This appears to be an attempt to further curry favor and influence with a new administration.
Chester noted that Congress will be tackling online privacy, which many consider the key threat to Google's economic future. Aligning oneself, even if it is for personal reasons, too closely with an administration before that future administration is installed can be dangerous for Google.

Mr. Schmidt's work on behalf of Obama-while undoubtedly heartfelt-does place a conflict of interest cloud over any future Google and Obama administration relations. He's actually placing a potential President Obama in a potentially vulnerable situation. Mr. Schmidt is not General Colin Powell-his place is in Mountain View-not on the campaign trail. He should have written a check and kept in the background.