Dozens of groups with financial ties to Google are submitting amicus briefs to the Supreme Court, which is deciding whether to hold the tech giant liable for content posted on its platforms. They all happen to be championing a decision that will benefit Google.
Nearly 40 non-profit organizations, legal organizations and trade associations with financial and personal ties to Google have filed formal amicus briefs with the court gonzales v. Google, which accounts for a third of the pleadings filed in the case. The case centers on Section 230, a federal law that protects online platforms from legal liability for content posted by third parties. Section 230 is often the only thing keeping tech companies from financial ruin. If the court rules against Google, which hosts a vast trove of content through platforms like YouTube, it would expose the company to an endless stream of civil lawsuits.
The Supreme Court requires companies filing Amicus briefs to disclose their parent companies and list any other publicly traded companies that own 10 percent or more of their stock. Nonprofit organizations have no such requirement, allowing the groups that pay Google to omit their financial ties.
The sheer number of stakeholders with ties to Google who have submitted amicus briefs on behalf of the company offers a glimpse of how tech companies are working to influence policy through a range of nonprofits and academics. Although intended to appear as outside entities, many of these groups work hard to advance the interests of their donors.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Last year, Google published a list of companies that received the “most significant contributions” from its lobbying efforts. One such group that has received money from the tech giant, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), also has Mark Isakowitz, Google’s vice president of government affairs, on its board. Neither Isakowitz’s status as the tech company’s top lobbyist nor Google’s funding of the group were disclosed in the CCIA’s brief.
Google has also been a top donor to the left-leaning Center for Democracy and Technology, giving millions to the group over the past decade. The center disclosed a former respected engineer at Google as part of its amicus letter, but no financial donations from the company.
The court decides against Google in gonzales, the internet giant could be forced to pay damages to the family of a woman who died in the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. One of the terrorists was radicalized after watching ISIS recruitment videos on YouTube. The woman’s family argues that the video platform recommended increasingly radical content to the terrorist, which prompted him to carry out the attack.
More lawsuits could follow, potentially draining funds for Google’s affiliated nonprofits. Mike Davis, president and founder of the Internet Accountability Project, told the Washington Free Beacon It’s “not surprising” that the same groups that submit Amicus briefings are “on Google’s payroll.”
“These big tech shills are bought and paid for and should not be considered independent in any way,” he said. “The key to Big Tech’s strategy of fending off laws, regulations and damaging court decisions is their willingness to dig deep into their pockets and buy off critics.”
Other groups filing a petition with the court include Public Knowledge, which has former Google general counsel Daphne Keller on its board. The left-wing tech advocacy group coordinated with Google and Twitter during the coronavirus pandemic to prosecute alleged “misinformation” on the platforms. Keller’s previous employment at Google was not mentioned in the group’s briefing.
Keller filed a separate brief acknowledging her tenure at Google, but said she has “no ongoing employment or consulting relationship with the company.” According to its website, Public Knowledge earned $50,000 from Google between 2020 and 2021. The group was founded in 2001 by Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission.
The Chamber of Progress, which takes Google’s money and was formed in 2020 as a leftist response to the pro-business Chamber of Commerce, also rushed to defend the company. Led by a former Google lobbyist, the Chamber of Progress said in its amicus brief that an unfavorable ruling against Google would “choke off continued growth and innovation at the most important element of our modern economy.”
Google’s influence even extends to sitting members of Congress. Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) joined former California Congressman Christopher Cox (R.) in submitting a letter in support of Google. Cox sits on the board of directors of the Google-funded nonprofit Net Choice. Cox and Wyden are also the original authors of Section 230.
The High Court will hear oral arguments for gonzales on February 21st. Judge Clarence Thomas has in recent years expressed his willingness to reconsider the full immunity granted to social media companies under Section 230.