As Clinton Wins Nomination, Her Tech Circle Gets In Formation

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Robbie’s Round-Up for the Week of June 6-10, 2016

On June 6, the Associated Press declared that Hillary Clinton would be the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee. She is now the first women to lead a major political party in the U.S. With the 2016 field now essentially down to Clinton and Donald Trump, both major parties are drafting their platforms for the November election. Which tech policy issues will get attention as we move to the general election? Who are the key players?

Nearly 20 technology and civil rights organizations on June 6 sent a letter to the heads of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in an effort to encourage the parties to adopt platforms that defend Internet privacy, affordability, and openness. They say the parties should treat Internet access as "essential, not a luxury,” adding “Understanding where both political parties stand on issues such as protecting privacy online, or ensuring greater broadband access, deployment, and adoption in urban, rural, and tribal areas alike, will be crucial to helping voters make an informed choice on Election Day.”

This week, RNC members met with a number of technology trade groups in closed-door meetings to talk about issues like network neutrality and surveillance. The DNC heard testimony from stakeholders on June 8 and 9 about the party’s platform, which will be taken up during its national convention in July.

The People
While Donald Trump remains something of a wild card on key tech policy issues, Hillary Clinton’s views and key influencers are clearer. On June 7, Politico’s Tony Romm reported on Hillary Clinton’s tech policy circle, writing:

Hillary Clinton's campaign is quietly assembling a roster of high-powered tech and telecom advisers as the Democratic front-runner develops a digital agenda focused on protecting net neutrality and modernizing government. Unlike her Republican foe, Donald Trump, who has little policy infrastructure, Clinton is cultivating a network of tech advisers comprised of former officials, industry lobbyists and generous donors — many of whom could be in line for key positions at the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies if she becomes president.

Romm identifies these key players:

  • Alec Ross, a well-connected former Clinton aide at the State Department who has championed global Internet freedom and the power of social media.
  • Ben Scott, who also worked under Clinton at State and was a leading figure at public interest group Free Press.
  • Jennifer Pahlka, the founder and executive director of Code for America, also helped found the U.S. Digital Service, an effort launched by the Obama Administration to bring better tech to government after the meltdown.

Additionally, Romm points to these policymakers in Clinton’s circle:

  • Karen Kornbluh, a Nielsen executive and former ambassador under President Barack Obama who helped craft the Democratic party's platform on tech issues in 2012.
  • Susan Ness, a former commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission who has been raising money for the Clintons in every one of their campaigns since Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992.
  • Bruce Gottlieb, a former FCC lawyer who was involved in early regulatory battles over net neutrality.
  • Rebecca Arbogast, a former telecom analyst who became a lobbyist at Comcast's NBCUniversal.
  • Tom Power, a former White House official who helped craft President Obama's position in favor of strong net neutrality rules. He later left government to take a position at CTIA, the wireless trade group.

Romm also reports that the Clinton campaign's tech and telecom outreach includes Kevin Werbach, a former FCC official who is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Phil Weiser, a White House veteran who serves as dean of the University of Colorado Law School.

The Issues
Many see the list of people involved as affirmation that Sec. Clinton would continue much of the work of the Obama Administration, from defending the FCC's net neutrality rules — currently facing a legal challenge from the telecom industry — to expanding broadband access, to improving government information technology. In November 2015, she debuted an infrastructure plan that stressed the need to improve high-speed Internet access across the country while making way for the wave of connected devices and gadgets known as the Internet of Things.

A Clinton presidency would be like "a third Obama term,” said Blair Levin, a former FCC official who's now a policy adviser to New Street Research, an investment research firm. Levin said that dynamic will be particularly true at the FCC because its next chairman “would be largely completing" proceedings like net neutrality that gained attention during the Obama years.

When it comes to the hotly-debated issue of encryption, Clinton has called for a middle ground. She said at a December Democratic debate she does not support "backdoors" in devices but called for a "Manhattan-like project," with the government and tech community working together to solve the issue. Her comment, which did not specify how this might work, drew criticism from some in the tech industry who say law enforcement's demands for a technological key would undermine consumers' privacy.

Follow the Money
As Romm points out in his article, “History shows early campaign donors and advisers often end up with these plum posts. President Barack Obama, for example, tapped two campaign fundraisers, Julius Genachowski, his former law school classmate, and Tom Wheeler, a onetime cable and telecom lobbyist, as chairmen of the FCC. Both helped raise more than $500,000 for the President.” In telecom policy circles in Washington, both Kornbluh and Ness — who are part of the Clinton's campaign's network of informal advisers — have been mentioned as potential FCC chairs under a President Hillary Clinton.

The tech sector as a whole has been much more financially supportive of Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. She has reaped more than $8 million from the communications and tech industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Trump, in contrast, has raised only $400,000 from the sector.

Jon Swartz, writing for USA Today, said, “Clinton, a frequent visitor to the San Francisco Bay Area for fundraisers, is supported by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, Box CEO Aaron Levie and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has funded two companies, Civis Analytics and The Groundwork, that work with the Clinton campaign.”

Romm reports that even former FCC Chairman Genachowski, who also worked at the FCC during President Bill Clinton, has returned to the fundraising scene, holding an event for Clinton in May.

Orange You Forgetting About Trump?
Little is known about Donald Trump’s take on tech and telecom. He has said he opposes net neutrality, calling it a threat to conservative speech online, and he's argued that the tech industry should cooperate in terrorism investigations. But the billionaire businessman has largely eschewed policy specifics, instead taking periodic shots at executives like Apple CEO Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

As Swartz noted, Trump called for a boycott of Apple products when it denied a government request to hack the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino (CA) shooters ("Who do they think they are?" he asked) and he vowed "to get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries." Ironically, Trump called for the boycott via a Twitter message posted via his iPhone.

Fears in the tech sector run deep about Trump's well-documented anti-immigration stance. California is the most ethnically-diverse state and the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most ethnically-diverse major metropolitan areas in the world.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is a Trump supporter, though Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for California governor in 2010, is not. In March, she called Trump a "dishonest demagogue" who would "sink this country into a recession."

* * *

With the party platforms being developed as we speak, this summer’s conventions are sure to touch on key tech issues. Important issues around Internet access, adoption, and use will be decided by the next President -- something to be aware as voters head to the ballot box in November.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

Events Calendar for June 13-17, 2016
June 13 -- 2016 FTTH Connect, Nashville (TN)
June 14 -- Restoring America’s Investment Economy, ITIF
June 14 -- “FCC Overreach: Examining the Proposed Privacy Rules”, House Communications Subcommittee hearing
June 15 -- Mark Up Small Business Broadband Deployment Bill, Senate Commerce Committee
June 15 -- Start With Security - Chicago, FTC/Northwestern Law School
June 15 -- Understanding the Future of Cyber Threat Intelligence, New America
June 15 -- Software’s Economic Impact + The Drive for Talent, New America
June 16 -- FCC Open Meeting June 2016
June 16 -- Fighting ISIS in the Information Space: Government and Civil Society Perspectives, New America
June 16 -- Women on the Run: Gender, Media, and Political Campaigns in a Polarized Era, New America
June 16 -- CivicX Spring 2016 Demo Night: Digital and Financial Inclusion, New America
June 17 -- Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State, New America

ICYMI from Benton
benton logoThe Keyes to Digital Inclusion: An Interview with David Keyes, Digital Equity Manager, City of Seattle

By Robbie McBeath.