Critics Rip Obama’s Proposed Google Pick

Wed, Jun 3, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    As rumors swirl that President Obama plans to appoint Google’s Andrew McLaughlin as White House deputy chief technology officer, consumer watchdogs bay over possible ethics violations.

    Although Google’s Director of Global Public Policy Andrew McLaughlin has not, at least officially,  been nominated for anything by President Obama, two public policy groups are already upset over McLaughlin’s reported pending jump from Google to Obama’s deputy chief technology officer.

    According to published reports, McLaughlin is set to accept the White House position. Google confirms McLaughlin is leaving Google but declined comment on his future plans.

    Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Digital Democracy, though, said McLaughlin’s appointment as the White House deputy chief technology officer would violate the intent of President Obama’s ethics rules meant to end the revolving door between lobbyists and the executive branch.

    "We do not object to Mr. McLaughlin’s appointment because he is associated with Google per se," Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Digital Democracy wrote in a June 3 letter to Obama. "The problem is that he has been a lobbyist for the biggest digital marketing company in the world, and we believe no special-interest connected person should assume a position of vital importance to the country’s future."

    The letter added, "It would be just as inappropriate for a lobbyist from Microsoft, Yahoo! or any similar technology company to be appointed Deputy Chief Technology Officer."

    McLaughlin built Google’s presence in Washington from a one-man shop to the search giant’s current sprawling complex in the nation’s capitol. Among McLaughlin duties was to serve as a registered lobbyist for Google in 2007 and as of March 2009 he was listed as assistant treasurer and designated agent for Google’s political action committee.

    Before joining Google, McLaughlin worked at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. He has also served as vice president, chief policy officer, and chief financial officer for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

    "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," Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said in a statement. "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."

    If McLaughlin joins the Obama administration, he will be joining former Google project manager Katie Stanton, who is serving as the White House Director of Citizen Participation, and former Google head of global development Sonal Shah, who is heading up Obama’s White House Office of Social Innovation. Google CEO Eric Schmidt was a close advisor to Obama’s transition team and serves as a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

    "Mr. McLaughlin is very good at what he does — lobbying around the world for Google’s interests," said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate at  Consumer Watchdog. "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."

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