Consumer Groups Challenge Obama's Appointment of Google Executive

Published June 06, 2009


Google's dominance of the digital world may be not enough for the Internet giant as some key executives migrate to the Obama administration.

Google boss Eric Schmidt is a member of President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and three other company executives have left the firm to work in the Obama administration, including Andrew McLaughlin, who will become the nation's deputy technology officer.

But two consumer groups are seeking to throw a roadblock in front of one those appointments. The Center of Digital Democracy and Consumer Watchdog urged President Obama in a letter this week to withdraw the pending appointment of McLaughlin, who was Google's top global public policy official, arguing that it would violate Obama's ethics rules aimed at eliminating the influence of lobbyists on the federal government.

"No lobbyist or special interest political operative from one of the leading Internet companies should be placed in such a key position where they can influence technology policy," said Jeffrey A. Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

"Appointing someone from a Google (or Microsoft, AT&T, etc.) lobbying shop to this position sends the wrong message – that the well-connected can still make a quick trip to the White House through a special interest revolving door.

"The goal of the Obama administration to use new technology to improve how the government works requires someone whose background ensures they can make independent decisions that will benefit all Americans."

John M. Simpson, a consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog, said McLaughlin is good at what he does – "lobbying around the world for Google's interests," he said. "That's not what this job requires. It should not go to any person whose most recent position has been advocating policy for a technology company," he said.

The White House refused to comment on the opposition to McLaughlin because it has not announced his appointment yet. Google did not return an e-mail or a voice mail message seeking a comment.

But Google has told Politico that McLauglin was mistakenly listed in Senate records as a lobbyist in 2007 and the company amended the reports in 2008.

Simpson told said the reports were citing a distinction without a difference.

"He essentially got their whole lobbying shop started," he said. "There's some questions about whether he lobbied or not. The point is he's running the public policy efforts around the world. He may not be knocking on the doors themselves, but he was telling them what to do and say."

Simpson acknowledged that he's concerned about Google's growing influence everywhere. "But that's not the reason for this particular objection," he said, adding that he would have opposed lobbyists from Microsoft or companies working in the Obama administration.