It was the summer of 2011, and Google was just beginning to face a worrisome 18-month Federal Trade Commission investigation into whether its Internet search dominance stymied competition and harmed consumers.
A cache of e-mails obtained by the Washington Post through a public records request shows how Google executives worked behind the scenes with officials at George Mason University’s Law & Economics Center to put on academic conferences that would be attended by officials who were considering the case.
The e-mails show how Google suggested sympathetic speakers and urged the law center to invite regulators who were part of the investigation.
The first event was held just days before the FTC’s probe was made public. Several weeks before the conference, Adam Kovacevich, a member of Google’s public policy team, e-mailed GMU staff about the invite list:
He received a swift reply from Henry Butler, the law center’s executive director:
Another Google policy director, John Burchett, suggested inviting staffers to state attorneys general:
The next day, Kovacevich suggested Capitol Hill staffers to invite:
The 2011 event, which featured a Google engineer as the keynote speaker, drew praise from Christopher Adams, an FTC economist who later worked on the agency’s Google investigation:
And he got a note of thanks.
In 2012, as the FTC investigation headed into its second year, Google and GMU worked together to organize another conference on search engine competition. Yang Zhang, a legal assistant at the company, provided the school with a detailed spreadsheet of who to invite.
Butler got right back to her:
Kovacevich chimed in to make sure several important players at the FTC received invitations, including Beth Wilkinson, a Washington litigator who had just been tapped by the agency to lead the Google investigation.
Unlike in 2011, Google was not publicly named as a co-sponsor of the second GMU event. And as the conference day loomed, Zhang worried that the company’s presence would be too visible. She wrote to the center’s administrative coordinator, Jeffrey Smith:
Smith responded reassuringly: