Monday, April 14, 2014

Google Masters Think Tank Row

The Washington Post has a new piece about how Google has learned the influence game in Washington, including how to embrace its most powerful think tanks.

The think tanks (and lobbying arm of think tanks) that Google donates to include:

  • Brookings Institution
  • Aspen Institute
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  • New America Foundation (NAF)
  • Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF)
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  • American Action Forum
  • Mercatus Center
  • Cato Institute
  • R Street Institute
  • Ripon Society
  • Free State Foundation
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Heritage Action
  • Center for a New American Security (CNAS)
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)

The Post piece details Google's embrace of Heritage and Cato, a conservative and libertarian think tank.  Here is what is said about the Google-Heritage relationship:
An early sign of Google’s new Washington attitude came in September 2011, when executives paid a visit to the Heritage Foundation, the stalwart conservative think tank that has long served as an intellectual hub on the right, to attend a weekly lunch for conservative bloggers...
In their visit to Heritage that day, Google officials were eager to make new friends. Their challenge was instantly clear.
“In 2008, your CEO campaigned for Barack Obama,” said Mike Gonzalez, Heritage’s vice president for communications, according to a video of the event. “. . . As a company, you’re really identified with this administration from the beginning. And you come here and you’re like a mix of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.”
Adam Kovacevich, then a member of Google’s policy team, responded by stressing the company’s interest in building new alliances.
The Google-Heritage relationship soon blossomed — with benefits for both.
A few weeks after the blogger session, Heritage researcher James L. Gattuso penned a critique of the antitrust investigation into Google, praising the company as “an American success story.”
That winter, Heritage joined the chorus of groups weighing in against the anti-piracy legislation. As the bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, appeared to gain steam in the GOP-led House, Gattuso wrote a piece warning of “unintended negative consequences for the operation of the Internet and free speech.” The legislation, he said, could disrupt the growth of technology. Gattuso said he came to his position independently and was not lobbied by Google.
After Gattuso’s piece went live, Heritage Action, the think tank’s sister advocacy organization, quickly turned the argument into a political rallying cry. In terms aimed at tea party conservatives, the group cast the bill as “another government power grab.”
 As congressional offices were flooded with phone calls and e-mail protests, support for the legislation crumbled. Within days, both the House and Senate versions of the bill were shelved and Hill veterans were left marveling at the ability of Google and its allies to muster such a massive retail response.
For Google and Heritage, the legislative victory was the beginning of a close relationship. A few months later, Google Ideas and the Heritage Foundation co-hosted an event focused on the role the Internet could play in modernizing Cuba, featuring Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Google Ideas director Jared Cohen.
The following year, a new name popped up on Google’s list of groups it supports financially: Heritage Action.

Here is what the Post piece says about the Google-Cato relationship:
On a February night this year, Schmidt sat down with a Washington audience far friendlier than the panel of senators who had grilled him nearly three years earlier. Addressing a dinner of journalists and scholars at the libertarian Cato Institute, Schmidt received applause and lots of head-nodding as he declared, “We will not collaborate with the NSA.”
Cato was not always in sync with Google’s policy agenda. In previous years, the think tank’s bloggers and scholars had been sharply critical of the company’s support for government rules limiting the ways providers such as Comcast and Verizon could charge for Internet services.
But, like many institutions in Washington, Cato has since found common ground with Google.
And the think tank has benefited from the company’s investments, receiving $480,000 worth of in-kind “ad words” from Google last year, according to people familiar with the donation.

Here is an infographic from the Washington Post piece that allows one to explore Google's influence in Washington (including think tank funding) over time.

Google actually has its own think tank, called Google Ideas.  Here are the reasons you didn't know Google has its own think tank.

To update that Washington Post piece about Google's think tank, Google Ideas does indeed have its own website now.