Purchasing government

(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man, File)

These days you are wasting your money if you pour resources into lobbyists. These days you can directly buy government.

Mark Zuckerberg spent his money in 2020 purchasing the actual mechanism by which which elections are conducted; and while this was expected, I think we can be pretty confident that he was satisfied with the results of his purchase. “Zuckerbucks” went directly to election officials, and while they didn’t directly purchase vote totals, they certainly had an effect on the outcome.


But that was not the most efficient use of his money, it turned out. Zuckerberg poured $350 million more or less into the electoral system, which is a hell of a high price for whatever he got.

Eric Schmidt found a much more cost efficient way to achieve his goals: funneling money directly into White House Advisors. That is what I would call an efficient use of resources. Literally owning bureaucrats who have access to the president and his advisors.

Politico has the story, and I hope it shocks you as much as it does me:

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google who has long sought influence over White House science policy, is helping to fund the salaries of more than two dozen officials in the Biden administration under the auspices of an outside group, the Federation of American Scientists.

The revelation of Schmidt’s role in funding the jobs, the extent of which has not been previously reported, adds to a picture of the tech mogul’s growing influence in the White House science office and in the administration – at a time when the federal government is looking closely at future technologies and potential regulations of Artificial Intelligence.


This strikes me as a really good angle of attack if you really want to influence government policy. I can’t imagine that Biden or almost anybody else has a clue that two dozen officials are completely bought and paid for, and for that matter I doubt that they would care.

Two dozen strategically placed “fellows” at the center of the power at the White House is a mighty valuable commodity, and certainly doesn’t cost $350 million. A couple, a few million maybe, and you can steer policy by controlling the information flow to the president and his advisors.


Better yet, these “fellows” come from the “non-partisan” Federation of American Scientists, so they might as well have “EXPERT” stamped on their foreheads. Follow “the science!”

Don’t worry, though. Their is nothing illegal going on. Oh no. This kind of influence purchasing is completely above board.

Schmidt has become one of the United States’ most influential advocates for federal research and investment in AI, even as privacy advocates call for greater regulation.

A spokesperson for Schmidt defended the arrangement, saying in a statement that “Eric, who has fully complied with all necessary disclosure requirements, is one of many successful executives and entrepreneurs committed to addressing America’s shortcomings in AI and other related areas.”

The spokesperson also defended the existence of privately funded fellows, chosen by FAS, in key policy making areas as both legal and beneficial to the public.

“While it is appropriate to review the relationship between the public and private sectors to ensure compliance and ethics oversight, there are people with the expertise and experience to make monumental change and advance our country, and they should have the opportunity to work across sectors to maintain our competitive advantage for public benefit,” the statement said.

For its part, a White House spokesperson said: “Neither Eric Schmidt nor the Federation of American Scientists exert influence on policy matters. Any suggestion otherwise is false. We enacted the most stringent ethics guidelines of any administration in history to ensure our policy processes are free from undue influence.”


I’m sorry, I really don’t care that this is legal. It is grossly and obviously wrong. Letting one of the world’s richest men insert toadies into the White House as “fellows” is appalling on so many levels. Being assured that no laws are broken doesn’t assure me or anybody else that nothing wrong is happening.

It just tells me that nobody will be prosecuted for doing wrong things.

This gives you a flavor of government “ethics.” If the “ethics guidelines” say it is OK that’s only because the guidelines care nothing about ethics. As you would expect.

But a POLITICO investigation found that members of the administration are well aware that a significant amount of the money for the salaries of FAS’s fellows comes from Schmidt’s research and investment firm, Schmidt Futures, and that the organization was critical to the program to fund administration jobs. In fact, the influence of Schmidt Futures at FAS is such that they are sometimes conflated.

Thus, some close observers of AI policy believe that Schmidt is using the program to enhance his clout within the administration and to advance his AI agenda.

“Schmidt is clearly trying to influence AI policy to a disproportionate degree of any person I can think of,” said Alex Engler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in AI policy. “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in investment toward advancing AI capacity in government and not much in limiting its harmful use.”

None of that should surprise. This is clearly purchasing influence. Eric Schmidt may be a great guy for all I know and may have the best of intentions, but this is outright influence purchasing. Having 2 dozen officials implanted at high levels of the government who answer to you is a damn good investment if you can afford it.


Should this be illegal? Obviously. But would that eliminate the problem? No.

The basic problem is that anybody in government would think this is OK, even desirable. It shows how cozy the relationships at the top are between the Elites inside government and those without.

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