lobby group Free Press, a self-styled “public interest” organization,
has worked hard over the years to forge alliances with corporate players
and federal bureaucrats directly involved in the political intrigues of
DC technology and media policy.
Documents made public through past Freedom of Information Act requests and those obtained by The Daily Caller through an undisclosed source reveal a well-funded, ideologically motivated organization with close ties to Google, the White House, and several federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the State Department.
The regulatory policies Free Press advocates, including net neutrality,
benefit the organization’s corporate allies, in addition to the
investment portfolios of philanthropists including the group’s most
well-known financier, George Soros.
The net neutrality debate was largely one about how to best solve the dilemma of meeting continually increasing consumer demand for the data-intensive services of corporations like Google and Facebook. That growing demand for online bandwidth developed in parallel with the communications technology industry’s own problem: the ever-decreasing supply of available electromagnetic spectrum to license to Internet providers like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Sprint.
ideological rhetoric of political players on both sides of the debate,
however, seemed to force consumers and bureaucrats to choose between
free speech and free markets.
John Fund, the senior editor of the conservative American Spectator, explained in a 2010 Wall Street Journal column that the concept of net neutrality was birthed as part of a well-funded and intentional effort by a network of liberal foundations, and that Free Press co-founder Robert McChesney’s “ultimate goal” — as stated in a 2009 interview on the Canadian socialist website SocialistProject – was to “get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
The policy coordination between McChesney’s group and Google can physically be traced back as early as March 2009. Free Press co-founder and former president Josh Silver had sent out a memo, obtained by TheDC, an invitation to the home of Google General Counsel David Drummond — which advertised a reception where attendees would discuss all things related to the Internet policy of the new Obama Administration:
“David Drummond is hosting a small reception at his home in San Francisco on March 25th, and I hope you will join us,” wrote Silver, who is still a current board member of Free Press, as well as the current CEO of the campaign finance reform organization United Republic. (RELATED: Full coverage of the tech world)
will discuss how the new Administration will be driving major policy
changes that will shape opportunities for, access to markets, and the
quality of network infrastructure,” wrote Silver. “We’ll touch on
universal broadband access, Net Neutrality, privacy, wireless spectrum
allocation, and openness standards.”
“David has graciously invited me and our Policy Director Ben Scott to speak with a small group of individuals who share an interest in these issues,” wrote Silver. “Joining us will be Free Press board member Larry Lessig who is Professor at Stanford Law School and Founder and Director of the school’s Center for Internet and Society.”
In an email to TheDC, Lessig denied any knowledge of the event or the invitation.
“I’m sorry but I don’t know anything about this meeting,” said Lessig. “I am not with Free Press. And I have never been at David’s home (unfortunately).”
Lessig’s own biography confirms his previous service as a board member of Free Press. Asked in a followup about the invitation, Lessig wrote: “I never got that memo! But no, never asked, never there.”
recollections could not be corroborated, since neither Scott nor Silver
responded to requests for comment for this story.
The meeting at Drummond’s home does not appear to have been the last time Free Press and Google collaborated. Free Press’ policy positions in net neutrality regulatory skirmishes favored outcomes advantageous to Google’s business model, and the organization worked — as did lobbyists representing all sides of the debate – with people inside the administration to win those battles.
several instances during 2010, Free Press had close — and apparently
inappropriate — contact with a former Google employee who worked in the
White House, and with FCC officials, over the formation of broadband and
net neutrality policy.
Emails obtained by the National Legal and Policy Center through a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Ben Scott had met with now former Obama White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin at a Washington tea house to discuss and compare notes about broadband Internet policy and Net Neutrality. Scott, whom the Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang had at one point called a “driving force” for net neutrality, sent a follow-up email to McLaughlin after that meeting to provide him with non-public Free Press documents covering the issues they discussed.
McLaughlin, policy advisor at Google prior to taking a job at the White House, had already come under fire from members of Congress, including the House oversight committee’s then-ranking member Darrell Issa, for using his personal Gmail and government email accounts to coordinate with senior employees at Google while he was at the White House. McLaughlin, who did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment, was criticized for using his position to give favor to his former employer — a violation of the President’s Ethics pledge.
The White House defended McLaughlin in a Los Angeles Times article, noting that “executives from phone and cable companies, including Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and chief executive, have had multiple meetings with President Obama and top administration officials.”
The close relationship between Google and the White House was no secret at the time. Obama’s relationship with Silicon Valley in particular was important to his government technology policy initiatives, and also to his pledge to making government more “transparent and open.”
“Google’s ties to the Obama White House are no secret,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “Google employees were the fifth-largest corporate donors to Obama’s presidential campaign and Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt sits on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.”
Free Press’ lobbying did not stop at the White House, but extended also to the FCC. Emails obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request showed communications between now-former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and Free Press, including an ex-parte document sent by now-former Free Press president Josh Silver in the days leading up the the December 21, 2010 vote by the FCC.
Scott also communicated frequently with FCC officials. Former Free Press spokesperson Jen Howard was FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s press secretary at the time. the Washington political newspaper The Hill reported that Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn condemned what she saw as “collusion” between the FCC and the lobby group, as revealed in the emails Judicial Watch obtained.