Down in the depths of the Conservative Political Action Conference are the booths showcasing the sponsors, co-sponsors and exhibitors. In perhaps the most prominent position, just to the left as you enter the exhibit hall after taking the escalator down, is Google's booth.
The booth sits next to NewsMax Media, a Republican news site, and across from the Heritage Foundation. Just to the right is a Tea Party booth. To get to Google's booth you have to walk by a large display put up by another sponsor, the National Rifle Association. Google is the only major American corporation that paid the $20,000 fee to be full sponsors.
I went up and spoke to to a couple of the young men that were operating the Google booth on Friday morning.
"I wasn't a part of the process," said Zachary Yeremian, when I asked him why Google had chosen to sponsor CPAC instead of just buying a less expensive co-sponsor or exhibitor booth, "We have no idea," he said. Yeremian said the booth was being used to show conference attendees how to use Google Plus and also to promote their new election page google.com/elections.
For its part, Google issued a statement saying the event was attractive because half the audience was under 25 and heavy users of technology. Yeremian gave me the Google representative's email who arranged the sponsorship, but she didn't respond to my questions.
Yeremian was careful not to weigh into the possible public relations issues Google's presence at CPAC may cause.
"We're not trying to advocate for anything," said Yeremian, "We're just here to promote google.com/elections and Google Plus."
There were only a few other major corporations that sponsored booths at CPAC: Koch Industries and Altria, the holding company that owns Phillip Morris, were listed as specialty sponsors and AOL and Microsoft/ElectionMall had bought a $5,000 co-sponsorship booth, according to the list of sponsors.
The majority of the other sponsors and co-sponsors were attending CPAC to push forward their ideological issues or companies. Co-sponsors included Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, Christians United for Israel, FreedomWorks, The American Petroleum Institute, Tea Party Patriots and the New York State Conservative Party.
But in the way back of the hall, at the exhibition booths, there were some real characters. Back there I found a mannequin adorned with body armor and a fake m-16. There was a booth selling books by Glenn Beck, Scott Rasmussen and Herman Cain. A second amendment advocate told me, "guns are the civilian defense weapon." A student at the Students for Life of America booth told me he didn't support abortions for women who were raped, "Two wrongs don't make a right, even though the rapist is a criminal, the child is still innocent."
I was surprised to see a booth back there advocating for the elimination of crony capitalism. I asked the two women standing behind it how they funded it. They said they received a grant from Koch Industries. The Western Center for Journalism tried to recruit me to write stories the liberal media tries to cover up.
"Like what?" I asked
"The Obama subpoena," said one of the staffers. Apparently she is referring to a story about a Georgia Judge who refused to throw out a subpoena asking for the President's appearance at a "birther" trial.
But at the very back, in fact the farthest table back, was a booth selling a t-shirt making light of the controversy in which American Marines peed on the bodies of dead Taliban. I asked the guy if the shirt had been selling well.
"Most people like it," said Chris Montesano, "But they're afraid to wear it."
Perhaps Google is trying to deviate from a perception that the company supports Democrats. Eric Schmidt, their CEO, previously served as an adviser to Obama. And, Google's workforce has donated $139,030 to Obama's campaign, according to Businessweek. But still, why would you want to surround your well-respected brand with controversial ideas like these: