Conservative ethics group claims new evidence against White House for ties to Google

The group said it obtained e-mails from McLaughlin that have not previously been made public through a Freedom of Information Act request. The NLPC charges that the e-mails show "a more serious investigation of potential ethics breaches is warranted."



The 12 pages of e-mails are all dated before McLaughlin was reprimanded by the White House for what it deemed were incidental violations of the administration’s ethics code after it came to light that he had exchanged e-mails with Google employees.

The Hill was unable to verify the authenticity of the e-mails. 



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NLPC has sent a letter to House Oversight Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) arguing the newly published e-mails prove further investigation is needed. 



"Like Halliburton in the previous administration, Google has an exceptionally close relationship to the current administration," the letter said. "No fair-minded person could look at McLaughlin’s record and not conclude that further investigation is warranted."

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), ranking member of the House Oversight Information Policy Subcommittee, said the new round of e-mails are "further evidence of President Obama's cavalier attitude toward his promise to run the most transparent administration ever."

NLPC is a conservative anti-corruption group that has also targeted Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Vermont Governor: Sanders 'will play dirty' NYT: Justice investigating alleged Comey leak of years-old classified info New Hampshire state lawmaker switches support from Warren to Klobuchar MORE, the Rev. Al Sharpton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).  

The substance of the new charges:

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NLPC said last week that administration rules prohibit former company officials "like McLaughlin from involving themselves in federal policies that materially impact their former employer."

It cites breaches to that expectation that it uses the e-mails to corroborate.

However, it is often unclear its charges represent anything more than McLaughlin's efforts to do his job. His situation, after all, puts unusual strain on President Obama's ethics promises, which have been widely criticized for flaws — including that they often require exceptions and they do not account for the Washington reality that it is common for personnel to shuffle between government and industry positions.

McLaughlin's former employer is affected by a multitude of tech policy issues and it could seem impossible for him to remove himself from every issue that touches the company. Still, the e-mails suggest that pro-net-neutrality interests including Google may have had better and more casual access to McLaughlin than the telecom giants who oppose Google in that debate.

A principle breach cited by NLPC is a September 2009 meeting between McLaughlin and a WilmerHale lobbyist who works on the Google account, Becky Burr. Their conversation touched on Federal Trade Commission privacy rules, which would have a significant effect on Google.

Other interesting takeaways from the letters:

• Ben Scott, formerly of the pro-net-neutrality group Free Press, lobbied for broadband policy to be mentioned in the State of the Union address. He called the FCC v. Comcast oral argument, which would eventually slap down a government order on net neutrality, a "crisis-tunity."

• Open Internet Coalition (OIC) lobbyist Markham Erickson called a meeting with current intellectual property czar Victoria Espinel "startling" and "disturbing" and asked for a chance to chat. Google is a core member of OIC.

• McLaughlin and Free Press's Ben Scott made plans to meet at the Teaism on H Street in Northwest Washington, D.C.

The Hill did not independently verify the validity of the e-mails. 

Here is a link to the pdf of the e-mails. Here is a link to NLPC's blog post about the e-mails.