Is YouTube making Google a political player? The video-sharing site, with its stratospheric bandwidth bills and questionable new ad formats, may never pay Larry and Sergey back in cash for the $1.65 billion they shelled out to buy it in 2006. But it doesn't have to. YouTube, having conquered online video, is taking over political broadcasting. The conventional unwisdom in Manhattan and Washington, D.C., is that this election made YouTube. Pah! It's true that campaign videos spread faster than ever thanks to YouTube. But they made up a tiny fraction of clips and traffic on the site. Politicians owe YouTube a debt that Google is just starting to collect on — and hosting President Obama's 21st century fireside chats is just a down payment.Google has plenty of business in Washington these days, from the Federal Communications Commission to the Department of Justice. Convenient, then, that CEO Eric Schmidt endorsed Obama weeks before the election, joining his board of economic advisors and appearing in Obama's primetime infomercial. Schmidt doesn't need a government job — he's clearly volunteering to be America's CTO in his spare time. Schmidt is savvy enough to realize that YouTube's growing prominence as a media outlet could help the company become a larger political player — which is why the site sponsored two campaign debates. Traffic? Come on. YouTube hardly needs the help. Schmidt — who attended one debate with a mistress on his arm, like an old-school power broker — orchestrated the events to maximize Google's political influence. The outgoing administration has not been friendly to Google, whose management team tilts strongly to the left. The Department of Justice's threat to sue Google if it proceeded with a deal to sell search ads for Yahoo may have been, at least in part, politically motivated. Google mostly wants a free hand from Washington to cement its lead in online advertising — but it also wants help bullying telephone and cable companies into letting its services and ads flow unimpeded on high-speed broadband lines and cell phones, a cause it has dubbed "network neutrality." Network neutrality is an abstract issue. But YouTube, helpfully, makes it very concrete to politicians, who have long understood the power of the moving image to influence the public. It's easy to picture Google lobbyists pulling up a politician's YouTube videos, and asking them, "Now how would you feel if Verizon slowed down your videos? Wouldn't it be wrong if AT&T didn't let customers view them on their cell phones?" Even in its copyright enforcement, Google can club politicians. The McCain campaign complained about YouTube's takedown policy, which has a mandatory waiting period before videos whose rights are disputed can be reposted to the site. Will Democratic politicians — or any politician who votes the right way on network neutrality — find that a YouTube account manager is glad to make that kind of problem quietly go away? It's a symbiotic relationship, to be sure. Google helps politicians reach young voters on YouTube and hosts their videos for free. YouTube benefits from the free content and the traffic political videos generate; even if it doesn't sell ads directly on the pages, it's estimated that it could make $1 billion a year on search ads — and in that business, merely cementing YouTube's traffic lead helps Google make money. In that light, isn't there something that stinks about handing the president's weekly addresses to a single commercial outlet controlled by a political ally of the president? Obama's YouTube chats amount to a large, unspoken, behind-the-scenes government kickback. Every election has something dirty about it. And there's no question Google won this contest.