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Consumer Watchdog Calls On Senators To Skip Fundraiser Set For Google Headquarters

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Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 11:15 am

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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.”

Read the DSCC’s invitation here.

“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.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here.

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.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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