Dozens of groups that have financial ties to Google are filing amicus briefs to the Supreme Court as it deliberates whether the tech giant should be held liable for content posted on its platforms. They all just so happen to be advocating for a ruling that benefits Google.
Nearly 40 nonprofits, legal organizations, and trade associations with financial and personnel ties to Google have formally submitted amicus briefs before the Court in Gonzalez v. Google, accounting for a third of the briefs submitted for the case. The case centers around Section 230, a federal law that shields online platforms from legal liability over content posted by third parties. Section 230 is often the only thing preventing tech firms from financial ruin. If the Court rules against Google, which through platforms such as YouTube hosts a massive trove of content, it would open the company to an endless stream of civil suits.
The Supreme Court requires corporations that submit amicus briefs to disclose their parent companies and list any other publicly held companies that own 10 percent or more of its stock. Nonprofit organizations have no such requirement, which allows the groups shilling for Google to omit their financial ties.
The sheer number of interest groups with ties to Google that have filed amicus briefs on the company's behalf offers a window into how tech companies work to influence policy through a series of nonprofits and academics. Though designed to appear as outside entities, many of these groups work extensively to further the interests of their donors.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Last year, Google disclosed a list of entities that received the "most substantial contributions" from its lobbying efforts. One of those groups that received cash from the tech giant, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), also has on its board Mark Isakowitz, Google's vice president of government affairs. 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 was also one of the top donors to the left-leaning Center for Democracy and Technology, contributing millions to the group over the past decade. The center disclosed a former distinguished engineer at Google as part of its amicus brief, but not any of the company's financial donations.
If the Court rules against Google in Gonzalez, the internet giant could be forced to pay damages to the family of a woman who died in the November 2015 Paris terror attacks. One of the terrorists was radicalized after watching ISIS recruiting videos on YouTube. The woman's family argues that the video platform recommended increasingly radical content to that terrorist, which led him to carry out the attack.
Other suits could follow, potentially drying up 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" to see that the same groups submitting amicus briefs are "on Google's payroll."
"These Big Tech shills are bought and paid for and should be in no way considered independent," he said. "The key to Big Tech's strategy to fend off legislation, regulation, and damaging court rulings is their willingness to reach into their deep pockets and buy off critics."
Among the other groups petitioning the court is Public Knowledge, which has a former general counsel for Google, Daphne Keller, on its board. The left-wing tech advocacy group coordinated with Google and Twitter during the coronavirus pandemic to track alleged "misinformation" on the platforms. Keller's past employment at Google was not mentioned in the group's brief.
Keller filed a separate brief in which she acknowledged her stint at Google but said she "has no ongoing employment or consulting relationship with the company." Public Knowledge took $50,000 from Google between 2020 and 2021, according to its website. The group was founded in 2001 by Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden's nominee to serve on the Federal Communications Commission.
The Chamber of Progress, which also takes Google's money and was founded in 2020 as a left-wing response to the business-friendly Chamber of Commerce, rushed to the company's defense as well. Led by a former Google lobbyist, the Chamber of Progress said in its amicus brief that an unfavorable ruling against Google would "strangle continued growth and innovation in the most vital 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 brief supporting Google. Cox sits on the board 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 Gonzalez on Feb. 21. Justice Clarence Thomas has in recent years expressed a willingness to reconsider the total immunity granted to social media companies under Section 230.