Obama technology adviser reprimanded for ethics violation

By Todd Shields
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A White House technology adviser hired from Google was reprimanded for improperly contacting former colleagues in violation of Obama administration ethics rules, a spokesman said.

U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin, Google's former head of global public policy, exchanged e-mails with "his former employer on topics within the scope of his official duties," which is prohibited by President Obama's ethics policies, Rick Weiss, a spokesman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said Tuesday in an e-mail.

McLaughlin's decision to join the administration last year highlighted connections between Google and the White House. Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, who backed Obama's campaign for president, is part of Obama's council of advisers on science and technology.

The correspondence with Google, operator of the most popular Internet search engine, had no influence on U.S. policy, Weiss said. McLaughlin didn't return an e-mail seeking comment.

"There's nothing in these communications that's not reflected in our public comments, public positions or official communications with the White House," Mistique Cano, spokeswoman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, said in an interview.

E-mails released by the White House show McLaughlin and Google employees discussing strategy to combat digital piracy of movies and music, relief efforts after Haiti's earthquake and administration plans to promote "net neutrality" rules for the Internet.

"Has there been so much flack from the Hill that you guys feel a need to back away?" Google Vice President Vint Cerf said in a Jan. 9 e-mail about opposition to net-neutrality rules.

"Don't be silly," McLaughlin replied. "No one's backed away from anything."

The Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Julius Genachowski, an Obama appointee, has proposed rules to bar companies that provide Internet service from favoring their own services and content.

"Any suggestions on who to call to grump about how insanely one-sided this conversation is?" Alan Davidson, Google's director of policy for the Americas, said in a Dec. 15 e-mail. The message included the agenda for Vice President Biden's meeting that day about anti-piracy efforts with executives from companies such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Viacom and Warner Bros. Entertainment. The released e-mails didn't include a reply from McLaughlin.

The White House released the e-mails after a request by Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit based in Santa Monica, Calif.

"He's got too many ties to influence-peddling and it's clear that those ties haven't been completely cut," John M. Simpson, consumer advocate with the group, said in an interview. "What makes it particularly irksome is that Obama made such a big deal about ending the revolving door of lobbyists."

The reprimand was reported Monday by The Hill newspaper.

-- Bloomberg News

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