By Robert Reich
Since its founding in 1999, the New America Foundation – an important voice in policy debates on the American left – has received more than $21 million from Google, from its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, and from his family’s foundation.
According to the New York Times, one of New America’s initiatives called Open Markets has been critical of the market power of tech giants like Google. Recently, the researcher who heads that initiative posted a statement on the New America Foundation website praising the European Union’s penalty against Google.
Schmidt communicated his displeasure to the foundation’s president, who accused the researcher of “imperiling the institution as a whole” and shut down the Open Markets initiative.
The New America Foundation isn’t alone. Over the last 3 years:
– A non-profit group devoted to voting rights decided it wouldn’t launch a campaign against big money in politics for fear of alienating the wealthy donors it courts;
– A liberal-leaning Washington think-tank released a study on inequality that failed to mention the role big corporations and Wall Street have played in weakening the nation’s labor and antitrust laws, presumably because the think tank didn’t want to antagonize its corporate and Wall Street donors.
– A major university has shaped research and courses around economic topics of interest to its biggest donors, notably avoiding any mention of the increasing power of large corporations and Wall Street on the economy.
– Comcast has been financing the International Center for Law and Economics, which supported Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner.
– The Charles Koch Foundation pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics department, stipulating that a Koch-appointed advisory committee select professors and undertake annual evaluations. The Koch brothers now fund 350 programs at over 250 colleges and universities across America. You can bet that funding doesn’t underwrite research on inequality and environmental justice.
– David Koch’s $23 million of donations to public television guaranteed that a documentary critical of the Kochs didn’t air.
The list goes on.
This is not just a problem created by right-wingers like Koch. Wealthy progressives are exerting as much quiet influence over the agendas of think tanks and universities as wealthy conservatives.
Big money should not be influencing what should be investigated, revealed, and discussed – especially about big money, and the tightening nexus between concentrated wealth and political power.
Schmidt was wrong to interfere in the New America Foundation, and the Foundation was wrong to have stopped its research on the increasing market power of Google and high tech.