Public Policy Should Be Decided In Hearing Room With Sunlight And Transparency, Group Says
SANTA MONICA, CA — Warning that a Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Fundraiser scheduled to be held at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA, on Friday created an appearance of a conflict of interest, Consumer Watchdog called on the seven Senators scheduled to appear not to attend.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit group said the Senators should avoid fundraisers posing as public policy forums. “Public policy matters should be decided in a hearing room with sunlight and transparency not in a $5,000-per-seat-minimum venue on the Googleplex Campus,” wrote Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog president and John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with the nonprofit, nonpartisan group, in a letter to the Senators.
“Senators should discuss public policy issues in open forums accessible to anyone who is interested. The public must not be locked out of a policy discussion that is taking place behind closed doors of a donor-funded forum because average Americans cannot afford the price of admission,” the letter said. “This is a private hearing, bought and paid for only by those with a vested interest in the outcome.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) plans to host a “National Innovation Conference” featuring Joel Benenson, pollster to President Obama, at Google’s headquarters on Friday, Nov. 13. Senators Jeff Bingaman, Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Tom Carper, Mark Warner, Jeff Merkley, and Mark Begich are scheduled to attend. “Hosts” are being asked to contribute $30,400; “sponsors” would give $10,000 and “guests” pay “$5,000.”
“Holding this fundraising event on Google’s campus supposedly to discuss technological innovation gives the company and other Silicon Valley high-rollers a private audience with Senators that will define the terms of the policy debate in a vacuum,” the letter said. “ This fundraising forum raises the specter of pay-to-play politics when so many issues of concern to Google and the rest of the Silicon Valley technology community are on the table.”
Here are the three panels planned for Friday’s event:
Innovation and Technology: Sen. Merkley; Sen. Warner; David Cohen, Comcast; Adam Grosse, Foundation Capital; Daniel Lewin, Microsoft; Mike Nevens, Permira and Moderator: John Doerr.
Health Care and Technology: Sen. Bingaman; Sen. Begich; Ross Jaffe, Versant Ventures; Bob Klein, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine; Nate McLemore, Microsoft; and Moderator: Javeed Siddiqui, University of California.
Energy and Environment: Sen. Bingaman; Sen. Boxer; Sen. Begich; Eric Dresselhuys, SilverSpring Networks; Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures; Stephan Dolezalek, Vantage Point; Eric Schmidt, Google; and Moderator: David Yarnold, Environmental Defense Fund.
“This is about money and access for Google, Microsoft, Comcast and venture capital,” the letter said. “Each of you would complain bitterly if the GOP held a fundraiser called the ‘National Conference on the Future of Energy’ at Exxon headquarters in Houston, aimed at donors across the oil patch. How is this event different?”
The Senate will soon be deliberating a myriad of issues concerning Google, Microsoft, Comcast and other technology giants. These issues include antitrust concerns, online privacy rules, patent reform and Internet regulation.
“This event puts policy and campaign cash in the same breath and needs to be cancelled before anyone’s ethics are tarnished,” the letter concluded. “Lending your names to this event as currently planned will serve neither you nor the Democratic Party. We call upon you not to attend fundraisers posing as public policy forums.”
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Consumer Watchdog, formerly the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC, and Santa Monica, CA. Our website is www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.