Documents show ‘Free Press’ interest group leveraged ties to Google, Obama administration

The lobby group Free Press, a self-styled “public interest” organization, has worked hard over the years to forge alliances with corporate players and federal bureaucrats directly involved in the political intrigues of DC technology and media policy.

Documents made public through past Freedom of Information Act requests and those obtained by The Daily Caller through an undisclosed source reveal a well-funded, ideologically motivated organization with close ties to Google, the White House, and several federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the State Department.

The regulatory policies Free Press advocates, including net neutrality, benefit the organization’s corporate allies, in addition to the investment portfolios of philanthropists including the group’s most well-known financier, George Soros.

The net neutrality debate was largely one about how to best solve the dilemma of meeting continually increasing consumer demand for the data-intensive services of corporations like Google and Facebook. That growing demand for online bandwidth developed in parallel with the communications technology industry’s own problem: the ever-decreasing supply of available electromagnetic spectrum to license to Internet providers like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Sprint.

The ideological rhetoric of political players on both sides of the debate, however, seemed to force consumers and bureaucrats to choose between free speech and free markets.

John Fund, the senior editor of the conservative American Spectator, explained in a 2010 Wall Street Journal column that the concept of net neutrality was birthed as part of a well-funded and intentional effort by a network of liberal foundations, and that Free Press co-founder Robert McChesney’s “ultimate goal” — as stated in a 2009 interview on the Canadian socialist website SocialistProject — was to “get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”

The policy coordination between McChesney’s group and Google can physically be traced back as early as March 2009. Free Press co-founder and former president Josh Silver had sent out a memo, obtained by TheDC, an invitation to the home of Google General Counsel David Drummond — which advertised a reception where attendees would discuss all things related to the Internet policy of the new Obama Administration:

“David Drummond is hosting a small reception at his home in San Francisco on March 25th, and I hope you will join us,” wrote Silver, who is still a current board member of Free Press, as well as the current CEO of the campaign finance reform organization United Republic. (RELATED: Full coverage of the tech world)

“We will discuss how the new Administration will be driving major policy changes that will shape opportunities for, access to markets, and the quality of network infrastructure,” wrote Silver. “We’ll touch on universal broadband access, Net Neutrality, privacy, wireless spectrum allocation, and openness standards.”

“David has graciously invited me and our Policy Director Ben Scott to speak with a small group of individuals who share an interest in these issues,” wrote Silver. “Joining us will be Free Press board member Larry Lessig who is Professor at Stanford Law School and Founder and Director of the school’s Center for Internet and Society.”

In an email to TheDC, Lessig denied any knowledge of the event or the invitation.

“I’m sorry but I don’t know anything about this meeting,” said Lessig. “I am not with Free Press. And I have never been at David’s home (unfortunately).”

Lessig’s own biography confirms his previous service as a board member of Free Press. Asked in a followup about the invitation, Lessig wrote: “I never got that memo! But no, never asked, never there.”

Lessig’s recollections could not be corroborated, since neither Scott nor Silver responded to requests for comment for this story.