While many 2016 presidential candidates are working hard to make inroads with the tech industry, one of the biggest players in the Silicon Valley – Google’s Eric Schmidt – has already picked sides. Schmidt is hoping to continue growing Google’s influence in Washington and protecting its crony business model through a new conduit: Hillary Clinton.
A new report in Quartz reveals Schmidt funded a little-known startup called the Groundwork.
The Groundwork, presumably, specializes in data analytics and digital outreach, but the rest of its function is unclear. Its mysterious website, thegroundwork.com, fails to clarify anything – the only feature on the page is a strange triangle logo Quartz describes as “looking vaguely like the Illuminati symbol.” Campaign finance disclosures show that the quiet, unassuming company has just one political client: the Clinton campaign.
It looks like it has been created by Schmidt for the express purpose of cultivating elite engineering talent to help Clinton win in 2016 – much like the Obama campaign’s technology staff helped tip the scales in his favor in 2008 and 2012.
The Groundwork, Quartz reporters Adam Pasick and Tim Fernholz note, is the third Schmidt-funded startup run by former Obama campaign staffers. The other two, Civis and cir.cl, emerged out of Obama’s campaign, but the Groundwork is different because Schmidt backed it before the Clinton campaign even got underway. It’s already giving her campaign a leg up on the competition.
Should Schmidt’s company continue to provide the primary digital firepower for the Clinton campaign, he will be able to wield a degree of influence far beyond what normal wealthy donors might achieve by making maximum campaign contributions or pouring money into a super PAC. “That’s the beauty of the Groundwork,” write Pasick and Fernholz. “Instead of putting money behind a Super PAC that can’t coordinate with the campaign, a well-connected donor like Schmidt can fund a startup to do top-grade work for a campaign, with the financial outlay structured as an investment, not a donation.”
Google already permeates our digital lives – from e-mail, to advertising, to transportation – Google is everywhere. Other campaigns by Bernie Sanders or Republican contenders almost certainly will not be able to match the connections Schmidt brings nor draw the same caliber of engineers to the rough-and-tumble campaign work that Schmidt can.
As I’ve pointed out a number of times before, Google is relying on cronyism to overhaul the patent system. Google is doing this through an extensive network of political appointees working inside the Obama Administration – and they are pushing an overhaul that would help stifle America’s top innovators. They’ve given political contributions to politicians that further their ends – like President Obama. Google employees donated about $800,000 to each of his campaigns.
And Obama gives back. Google only received a slap on the wrist after the Federal Trade Commission investigated its practice of favoring its own products in Google searches. And when the Federal Communications Commission was on the verge of implementing net neutrality through Title II regulation, Google received improper access to the plan and convinced the FCC to tweak it in the company’s favor.
Given how many former executives at Google now work in the Obama Administration, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Former Google patent attorney Michelle Lee, for instance, now serves as the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, a move that is sure to benefit Google’s innovative technological endeavors. The country’s chief technology officer Megan Smith spent more than a decade at Google as a Vice President. Alan Davidson, formerly a top Google lobbyist, was recently hired by the Commerce Department for a new position, “director of digital economy,” that seems suspiciously tailor-made for his connections. And the list goes on. This has granted Google special access to the White House – access that far exceeds other companies of similar financial clout and influence.
It’s easy to see how helping elect the next president could help a tech company: “With tech policy an increasingly important part of the president’s job—consider merely the issues of NSA surveillance and anti-trust policy, not to mention self-driving cars and military robots—helping to elect yet another president could be incredibly valuable to Schmidt and to Google,” write Pasick and Fernholz.
A Hillary Clinton presidency would mean Google could continue the crony business model it began under the Obama administration, and Eric Schmidt knows it. That’s why he’s eager to help her win. Google’s access to the White House would grow unimpeded, tipping the playing field even further in its favor, while the rest of America’s innovators lose out.