Ex-Googler’s New White House Job Rankles Some

Wed, Jun 3, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Andrew McLaughlin’s departure from Google to the Obama administration has prompted a little grumbling among some consumer advocates and the search giant’s corporate foes.

    Mr. McLaughlin, who was Google’s head of global public policy and government affairs, is leaving Silicon Valley for Washington, D.C., to become a deputy to Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, who’s in charge of advancing the president’s tech agenda.

    The White House has declined to confirm Mr. McLaughlin’s appointment. Google has confirmed he’s left the company but remained mum about where he’s going.

    On Wednesday, two consumer advocacy groups sent a letter to the White House asking administration officials to reconsider hiring Mr. McLaughlin, since he previously oversaw Google’s lobbying efforts.

    “We do not object to Mr. McLaughlin’s appointment because he is associated with Google per se. 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,” wrote John M. Simpson, founder of Consumer Watchdog, and Jeffrey Chester, founder of the Center for Digital Democracy.

    The White House declined to comment.

    A few Washington lobbyists have been quietly grousing about the same issue since Friday, although no company or industry group has said anything publicly. Google has amassed an impressive list of opponents in Washington in the few years it’s been active here. It’s gotten involved in a fairly large variety of skirmishes, over everything from Internet privacy and patent reform to possible regulation of Internet providers to set openness standards.

    President Barack Obama has said lobbyists would not find jobs in his administration in the fields they previously lobbied on, and any exceptions to that rule would require a waiver.

    Technically, Mr. McLaughlin wouldn’t require a waiver since he’s not a registered lobbyist.

    But even if he’s not technically a lobbyist, some consumer groups grumble, he had control over Google’s Washington lobbying office. He was also listed as the assistant treasurer of Google’s NetPAC.

    At one point in early 2007, Mr. McLaughlin was briefly registered by Google to lobby on “freedom of expression and intellectual property in international trade agreements.”

    Google removed him from their lobbying reports at the end of 2007, along with David Drummond, its chief legal officer, in a report filed July 2, 2008.

    Three months later, Google filed an amended report with the FEC that said Mr. McLaughlin’s listing as a lobbyist had been in error and he should never have been included on the report.

    “We determined that Andrew’s time had never met the threshold required for (lobbying) disclosure and the original filing had been in error,” said Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman. “That was the first time we’d ever filed (a lobbying report) and we came to understand later that we hadn’t filed it properly,”

    There seems to be little question about Mr. McLaughlin’s qualifications for becoming a deputy CTO, even if his appointment makes some of Google’s rivals a tad nervous. A former Hill aide to Rep. Henry Waxman, he spent a decade affiliated with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and helped launch ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

    Earlier this year, Mr. McLaughlin served as a tech adviser for the Obama transition team, focusing on things like how to make government operations more transparent. It’s not clear yet what he’d do in the CTO’s office, or when the appointment might become official.

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