An advocacy group for startups is funded by Google and run by ex-Googlers


A Washington-based advocacy organization that purports to be a voice for startup tech companies is actually a sock puppet for Google, according to a report released Wednesday that details numerous links between the two.

According to the report, startup advocacy group Engine has at least seven former Google employees and consultants on its board of directors and advisory board. Its three founders all previously worked at Google; they founded a startup incubator that Google eventually bought. Google has given Engine an undisclosed amount of funding over the past five years. The two share a lobbying firm called S-3 Group that has worked for both Engine and Google. The initial launch party for Engine in 2011 had attendees RSVP to a Google email address, which is reserved primarily for employees, unlike the Gmail address that is offered to the public.

On numerous issues, from patent reform, anti-piracy efforts, and high-skilled immigration, to the recent changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Engine’s advocacy and Google’s stated policy preferences are in alignment, the report explains. Google even funded a research paper that Engine later released.

“Public officials need to be aware that this so-called startup advocacy group is really in bed with Silicon Valley’s foremost D.C. influence machine, whose interests are often in conflict with those of disruptive entrepreneurs,” said Daniel Stevens of the Campaign for Accountability, which released the report. There are no clean hands here: The Campaign for Accountability gets major funding from Oracle, a chief antagonist to Google.

A Google spokesperson said the company is “happy to support Engine’s work” to represent the views of startups in Washington policy debates. “While we often agree on policy matters, Engine is an independent organization just like the other groups we support,” the spokesperson said.

Google publicly discloses its funding support for Engine on its website, “in contrast to the Campaign for Accountability, which declines to list its corporate funders and has been instrumental in Oracle’s long-running legal grudge against Google,” the spokesperson said.

Ken Gleuck, a senior vice president in Oracle’s Washington office, said after publication that Google’s charge was off-base and that Oracle had nothing to do with the report. “Before reading your story, Oracle had no idea Engine even existed, nor did we have any knowledge or involvement with this report,” he said. “While we are flattered, Google should not assume we are behind every bad story about Google. We’d run out of 20 percent time if all we did was out Google front groups. Are we also responsible for the Red Wedding and plastic straws?”

Engine argues that it has demonstrated its independence by breaking with Google on policy multiple times, most notably during the 2014 fight over net neutrality. Engine endorsed reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Communications Act; Google was more muted, and its trade group the Internet Association refused to endorse Title II. Other issues Engine highlights have no relevance to Google, like capital formation for early-stage companies. “Engine makes policy decisions based entirely in the best interests of, and the feedback we receive from, startups in our network, not the positions of our funders,” said executive director Evan Engstrom.

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