A watchdog group is calling on seven senators not
to attend an event at Google’s headquarters that the organization says
is a fundraiser masquerading as a policy conference. Consumer Watchdog
sent a letter Wednesday
to the seven Democratic senators set to participate in the National
Innovation Conference Friday and Saturday sponsored by the Democratic
Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) at Google’s headquarters in
Mountain View, Calif. Those listed as attending include: Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Tom Carper, D-Del., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Mark Warner, D-Va., as well as President Obama’s pollster, Joel Benenson, according to a DSCC brochure obtained by Consumer Watchdog.
The DSCC asks those wishing to participate as "hosts" to pay
$30,400, which will include tickets to several events related to the
conference, while "sponsors" are asked to contribute $10,000 for access
to some of the events and for $5,000 "guests" will be able to attend
the panel sessions and receive breakfast and lunch. Consumer Watchdog
said there will be three panel sessions where the senators are
scheduled to speak on such issues as innovation and technology, health
care and technology, and energy and the environment.
"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," said the letter signed
by Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and the group’s consumer advocate, John Simpson. Noting that Democrats passed the "strongest ethics and lobbying reform" rules when they came to power, DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz said "all of our fundraising is fully transparent and follows the law."
The Democrats are not alone in mixing policy and politics. The
National Republican Senatorial Committee will be hosting a similar
in Washington later this month featuring several Republican senators to
discuss key policy issues. It also is scheduled to include officials
from Google and Facebook to discuss technology matters. Simpson, who
was unaware of the NRSC event, said his group opposes all events like
this that "give special access to people making policy."