Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has developed a vast network of strategic investments and political relationships that’s allowed the tech billionaire to wield significant influence over artificial intelligence and public policy in Washington, D.C., according to an explosive new report.
The Bull Moose Project, a nonprofit advocacy group committed to developing “the next generation of America First leaders and policies,” has spent months investigating Schmidt’s financial disclosures, tax records, business documents and other publicly available information. On Thursday, the group released a report outlining its findings.
“Americans don’t want to believe that they live under ‘the rule of the few,’ rather than a democracy’s ‘rule of the many’ – but this sobering report is a wake-up call that our elected representatives can’t ignore,” said Aiden Buzzetti, president of the Bull Moose Project. “What we’ve put together reinforces the puppet-master role that big tech’s leaders play in the public’s lives. All items in this database and report are backed by reputable, verifiable sources, and we plan to update this it regularly so that the public has access to Schmidt’s dealings, even if government refuses to disclose them. Get WHO MADE GOOGLE_ for your mind to be blown.”
According to the report, Schmidt has built an “oligarch-style empire designed to influence public policy.”
Schmidt worked as Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011 and then as the tech giant’s chairman until 2015. He subsequently worked as the executive chairman of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, until 2018, and as its technical adviser until 2020.
During Schmidt’s tenure at Google, the company greatly expanded its lobbying operation, launching an office in the nation’s capital and registering its first in-house federal lobbyists.
“Within the realm of federal lobbying, Google has gone from a veritable non-entity in the early decade to one of the largest lobbying forces among its peers in the United States,” Dave Levinthal, then a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said in 2010. “They’re one of the big boys now.”
Schmidt has never been registered as a lobbyist. According to the report, however, he became “effective at changing government policy to benefit his investments through the powerful connections he has carefully cultivated through his membership on several influential government commissions and boards.”
Among Schmidt’s appointments, he served as chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board from 2016 to 2020 and also chaired the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), both of which impact U.S. policy toward AI and other tech and defense areas. Schmidt has served on government commissions during the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.
At an NSCAI event in 2021, Schmidt said the commission’s staff “had this interesting idea that not only should we write down what we thought, which we did, but we would have a hundred pages of legislation that they could just pass.” That idea, said Schmidt, “had never occurred to me before but is actually working.”
Schmidt suggested his team also had influence over classified annexes to national security-related bills.
“We don’t talk much about our secret work,” said Schmidt. “But there’s an analogous team that worked on the secret stuff that went through the secret process that has had similar impact.”
The former Google chief also explained that the key to being successful in Washington is lobbying the White House.
“If I’ve learned anything from my years of dealing with the government, is the government is not run like a tech company. It’s run top down,” he said. “So, whether you like it or not, you have to start at the top, you have to get the right words, either they say it, or you write it for them, and you make it happen. Right? And that’s how it really, really works.”
The Bull Moose report notes that Schmidt and Innovation Endeavors, one of the venture capital firms he founded, made dozens of investments in AI companies while he was running the NSCAI, citing data from Crunchbase.
Meanwhile, Innovation Endeavors invested in the rocket launch startup Astra, which in October 2020 was selected by the U.S. Air Force AFWERX program to pursue development of its Rocket 5.0 program. Schmidt, a vocal proponent of AFWERX’s creation in 2018, has continued to promote the program through public testimony to Congress and following his stint as chair of the Defense Innovation Board.
Schmidt is also an investor in Radical Ventures, a venture capital fund focused on investments in AI and quantum computing startups. Radical Ventures invested in the startup Covariant, which was favorably cited in the final report released by the Schmidt-chaired NSCAI as one of the robotics companies positioned to “win the market for the software platforms that power the next wave of industrialization.”
There’s no indication that Schmidt did anything unlawful or broke any ethics rules while chairing the commission. Public records also show he’s more broadly complied with all filing and disclosure requirements. However, government ethics advisers have said some of Schmidt’s investments while he chaired the NSCAI presented a conflict of interest.
“It’s absolutely a conflict of interest,” Walter Shaub, a senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight and a former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, told CNBC last year. “That’s technically legal for a variety of reasons, but it’s not the right thing to do.”
Schmidt’s influence in the AI space continued after the NSCAI disbanded following the expiration of its statutory mandate. His philanthropic nonprofit Schmidt Futures, for example, appears to have been central in the effort to recruit Craig Martell, who currently serves as the chief digital and AI officer for the Defense Department.
At an AI tech event last year, Martell described Schmidt Futures as a kind of headhunter in pursuing him for his current role.
“The one and only thing I did for Schmidt Futures was help them evaluate the kind of person they want for this job,” said Martell. “We were talking about what this job should look like, and then about two weeks later I got an email from the deputy secretary of defense asking me to apply. So, I’m pretty sure the whole thing was set up to be a covert interview.”
Martell was never employed or paid by Schmidt Futures, which has denied playing any role in the Pentagon’s hiring process.
Beyond Innovation Endeavors, Schmidt also played a key role in at least four other venture capital firms, according to the Bull Moose Project’s research. One of the firms was First Spark Ventures, which includes multiple biotech/biomedicine investments as part of its portfolio.
In January, Schmidt was tapped to serve on the National Security Commission on Emerging Biotechnology, a decision that prompted backlash given the billionaire’s biotech ties.
“This is a potential horror show,” Shaub said of the new commission earlier this year, expressing concern about members of the commission being able to shape federal policy that could end up benefiting them financially. “Congress created this commission without adequate safeguards against conflicts of interest.”
There’s no indication that Schmidt, who’s been a billionaire for several years, has personally raked in cash as a direct result of his government commission work. According to CNBC, a person familiar with Schmidt’s thinking said Schmidt will donate 100% of the “net profits” from his investment in First Spark to charity.
Beyond its report, the Bull Moose Project also created an interactive map with over 400 dots representing Schmidt’s connections across business, government, academia and beyond.
The map shows at least 50 former high-ranking government officials in Schmidt’s orbit, raising questions about what many observers have called the so-called “revolving door” of D.C. insiders shuttling professionally between the federal government and outside special interest groups working as lobbyists, consultants and strategists able to influence public policy.
A spokesman for Schmidt declined to provide a comment for this story. However, a source close to him provided a brief statement on the report with a direct reference to the Bull Moose Project: “Appropriate name since their report is bulls—.”
Schmidt “has made himself a prominent Washington insider and leveraged his relationships with current and former governmental officials more effectively than almost anyone in recent memory,” the report states.
Schmitt also maintains close ties with people still in government. Politico reported last year that Schmidt’s “fingerprints are all over” the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) under President Biden, noting that more than a dozen officials in the office have been associated with the tech titan. Among them is Biden’s now-former science adviser, Eric Lander.
The report added that Schmidt Futures indirectly paid the salaries of multiple staffers in the science office for a period of time, sparking “significant” ethical concerns within the office given Schmidt’s financial interests in areas overlapping with OSTP’s responsibilities. Schmidt Futures subsequently issued a statement saying the OSTP “has been chronically underfunded” and long “pooled philanthropic funding” along with other agencies as part of “private-public partnerships.”
According to the Bull Moose Project, Schmidt’s extensive network indicates a multifaceted conflict of interest.
“Making giant donations in exchange for political appointments, writing self-serving policies that are passed into law, promoting his business interests through government-issued reports, winning federal contracts through exploitation of his relationships… Schmidt is stacking the political deck,” said Buzzetti. “Many of us have heard snippets of information on Schmidt’s government advisory roles and investments, but when you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, an undeniable picture of conflict of interest and corruption appears.”
The US Government has been purchasing troves of information on American citizens from 3rd party data providers, according to Wired, which cites privacy advocates who say this constitutes a “nightmare scenario.”
The United States government has been secretly amassing a “large amount” of “sensitive and intimate information” on its own citizens, a group of senior advisers informed Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, more than a year ago.
The size and scope of the government effort to accumulate data revealing the minute details of Americans’ lives are described soberly and at length by the director’s own panel of experts in a newly declassified report. Haines had first tasked her advisers in late 2021 with untangling a web of secretive business arrangements between commercial data brokers and US intelligence community members. -Wired
“This report reveals what we feared most,” according to attorney Sean Vitka of the Demand Progress nonprofit. “Intelligence agencies are flouting the law and buying information about Americans that Congress and the Supreme Court have made clear the government should not have.”
The government has been using ‘craven interpretations of aging laws’ to bypass privacy rights, as prosecutors have increasingly ignored limits traditionally imposed on domestic surveillance.
“I’ve been warning for years that if using a credit card to buy an American’s personal information voids their Fourth Amendment rights, then traditional checks and balances for government surveillance will crumble,” according to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
During a March 8 hearing, Wyden pressed Haines to release the panel’s report – after Haines said it should “absolutely” be read by the public. On Friday, that’s exactly what happened after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released it amid a battle with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) over various related documents.
“This report makes it clear that the government continues to think it can buy its way out of constitutional protections using taxpayers’ own money,” said EPIC law fellow, Chris Baumohl. “Congress must tackle the government’s data broker pipeline this year, before it considers any reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” he said (referring to the ongoing political fight over the so-called “crown jewel” of US surveillance, per Wired).
The ODNI’s own panel of advisers makes clear that the government’s static interpretations of what constitutes “publicly available information” poses a significant threat to the public. The advisers decry existing policies that automatically conflate, in the first place, being able to buy information with it being considered “public.” The information being commercially sold about Americans today is “more revealing, available on more people (in bulk), less possible to avoid, and less well understood” than that which is traditionally thought of as being “publicly available.”
Perhaps most controversially, the report states that the government believes it can “persistently” track the phones of “millions of Americans” without a warrant, so long as it pays for the information. Were the government to simply demand access to a device’s location instead, it would be considered a Fourth Amendment “search” and would require a judge’s sign-off. But because companies are willing to sell the information—not only to the US government but to other companies as well—the government considers it “publicly available” and therefore asserts that it “can purchase it.” -Wired
What’s more, the report notes that it’s relatively easy to “deanonymize and identify individuals” based on data that was originally been anonymized prior to its commercial sale. According to the report, the data can do things like “identify every person who attended a protest or rally based on their smartphone location or ad-tracking records,” posing serious civil liberty concerns over how “large quantities of nominally ‘public’ information can result in sensitive aggregations.”
The report goes on to say that in times past, access to sensitive information about a person was part of a “targeted” and “predicated” investigation. That’s no longer the case.
“Today, in a way that far fewer Americans seem to understand, and even fewer of them can avoid, [commercially available information] includes information on nearly everyone,” it reads, adding that both the “volume and sensitivity” of information available for the government to purchase has exploded in recent years thanks to “location-tracking and other features of smartphones” as well as the “advertising-based monetization model” that underpins much of the internet.
According to the ODNI, this data “in the wrong hands” could be used against Americans “facilitate blackmail, stalking, harassment, and public shaming” – all offenses that have been committed by intelligence agencies and the White House in the past.
“The government would never have been permitted to compel billions of people to carry location tracking devices on their persons at all times, to log and track most of their social interactions, or to keep flawless records of all their reading habits. Yet smartphones, connected cars, web tracking technologies, the Internet of Things, and other innovations have had this effect without government participation,” reads the report.
Read the report below: