To President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr.:
We write to you as a broad coalition of organizations representing millions of Americans who want to ensure that the Internet isn’t dominated by a handful of corporations and remains free and open. We wish to congratulate you on your historic victory and look forward to working closely with your administration.
In reviewing your transition’s disclosure of its agency review teams, we were struck and concerned by the apparent widespread influence of people with close professional ties to Google generally and more specifically Eric Schmidt, a former CEO of Google with a current multi-billion dollar stake in the company.1 Even more concerning are recent reports indicating that Schmidt is being considered for a position in the White House.2 According to reporting by the Financial Times, “Eric Schmidt, the former Google chief executive, has been a big fundraiser, and is being talked about to lead a new technology industry task force in the White House.”3
We are writing to convey our concern about the prospect of Mr. Schmidt leading such a task force, given that the Department of Justice filed suit against Google on October 22, 2020 in response to the company’s well-documented anticompetitive behavior. According to the Department of Justice, “[a]s one of the wealthiest companies on the planet with a market value of $1 trillion, Google is the monopoly gatekeeper to the internet for billions of users and countless advertisers worldwide. For years, Google has accounted for almost 90 percent of all search queries in the United States and has used anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in search and search advertising.”4
The suit against Google has the potential to be the most important antitrust case in a generation. Especially as you work to build our economy back better after the pandemic, keeping markets open and competitive is key for expanding economic opportunity, incentivizing innovation, and protecting consumers. As such, we believe that it sends the wrong message—and could have a chilling effect on U.S. antimonopoly policy moving forward—to have an individual who served at both the helm of Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc. at such a high position in government.
In fact, recent polling conducted by the organization Demand Progress confirms that the American people agree that this is the wrong path forward, even across party lines. When asked whether you should refuse to appoint executives, lobbyists, or lawyers from Big Tech companies that are currently being sued by the DOJ or state attorneys general for engaging in anticompetitive behavior into your administration, 58 percent said yes and only 14 percent said no.5 The American people are divided on many things, but not on what they view as fundamental issues of legal and economic justice like this one.
In addition to his history as an executive at a corporation currently the subject of a historic federal lawsuit, Schmidt’s personal conduct also raises serious flags. According to reporting by Recode, Schmidt has recently taken advantage of the Republic of Cyprus’s de facto “passport-for-sale” program that allows wealthy foreign nations to effectively purchase citizenship.6 According to the report, “[Schmidt’s] move is a window into how the world’s billionaires can maximize their freedoms and finances by relying on the permissive laws of countries where they do not live.” The report further postulates that Schmidt is pursuing Cypriot citizenship not only for the purpose of being able to travel freely within the European Union, but also possibly to access a “favorable personal tax regime”. In a time of historic wealth inequality, it would send a dangerous message to appoint a billionaire currently in the process of effectively purchasing citizenship for the likely purpose of benefiting from foreign taxation laws to such a high profile role in the Executive Branch.
You have made it clear that you intend to work to bridge the partisan divide and to be a President for all Americans, not just those who voted for you. It’s clear that taking a harder line against Google and other corporations engaged in anti-competitive behavior would be a unifying move, which would be hindered by putting a Google luminary in a position of public trust. What’s more, as you approach your first 100 days in office, the appointment of Schmidt risks fracturing a Democratic coalition that your campaign and so many others worked so hard to build over the past several months. While the appointment of Schmidt may attract praise from certain elites in both Washington and Silicon Valley, it risks alienating an overwhelming majority of the electorate, including within the Democratic base, who want to see the economic power of major corporations reined in.
Congratulations again on your historic election victory, and we are excited to work with your administration in the months and years ahead.
Open Markets Institute
Communications Workers of America
Action Center on Race & the Economy
Artist Rights Alliance
Fight for the Future
Liberation in a Generation
Partnership for Working Families
Progressive Change Campaign Committee
Revolving Door Project
Jillian C. York (Individual)
1 See, e.g.: the team lead for the Council of Economic Advisors agency review team is closely associated with Schmidt Futures; a member of the Department of the Treasury team is affiliated with Sidwalk Labs, a sister organization to Google; one individual on the Department of Defense team and one on the Social Security Administration team are associated with Rebellion Defense, a small company associated with Schmidt; and multiple individuals spread across the transition are associated with WestExec, another firm closely associated with Schmidt. For more, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/12/us/politics/biden-administration-corporate-influence.html
5https://mailchi.mp/6f08b79429c6/demandprogressnewpoll. Opposition to the appointments of big tech executives like Eric Schmidt follows other recent polling from Demand Progress showing that voters across party lines support the federal lawsuit against Google. Recent polling by Demand Progress showed that 49% of those surveyed across party lines supported a Biden Administration continuing the lawsuit against Google compared to a mere 28% opposed and that 62% of respondents are concerned about the threat that the power of big technological companies… …poses to the U.S. economy. https://www.axios.com/exclusive-poll-shows-bipartisan-support-for-tech-antitrust-action-c3794ff5-120d-44d8-bac1-58b033efbd8a.html. Similarly, a recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling found that a bipartisan majority of Americans are in favor of reigning in the power of big tech companies, with a massive 70% of those surveyed supporting federal intervention to break up tech monopolies. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-poll-shows-bipartisan-majority-of-americans-want-congress-to-rein-in-big-tech-301151327.html