By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of Silicon Valley’s congresswomen is appealing to Reddit users to help her protect the bottom lines of her largest campaign contributors, including Google, as she seeks to become the top Democrat on one of the oldest and most powerful committees in Congress.
U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., last week announced a contest seeking submissions from Reddit and YouTube users for help to “rebrand” net neutrality, a decade-long political war over influence and money between major Internet services and the Internet service providers they use to reach their customers.
Net neutrality advocates funded by left-wing foundations and major Internet companies like Google have rallied support by leveraging consumer disdain for ISPs such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, but they worry support for their cause still has yet to take hold in mainstream consciousness.
Cable TV comedian John Oliver humorously criticized the term “net neutrality” for the boredom it invoked in laypeople and highlighted ISPs’ lobbying expenditures against the issue, suggesting advocates instead call net neutrality “preventing cable company fuckery.”
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohania, a millionaire Internet activist, philanthropist and serial entrepreneur, followed up on Oliver’s comments, telling Buzzfeed in July he believed net neutrality was “a terrible brand.”
In her announcement Thursday, less than a month before an upcoming Federal Communications Commission deadline about the issue, Eshoo said her contest would give Internet users the “opportunity to have an impact on the process, to help put the advantage back in the hands of the Internet user, and to ensure that the free and open Internet prevails.”
Eshoo, whose tenure spans over two decades, has been one of the top five recipients of campaign donations from the computer and Internet industries since 2000, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Both Roll Call and the Associated Press in April reported Eshoo, pitched in a major fundraising battle, was leveraging her Silicon Valley ties to secure her re-election and win the top Democratic seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee following the upcoming midterm elections.
Eshoo spokesman Charles Stewart told Watchdog.org in an email the congresswoman has been an “ardent defender” of the Internet and an advocate of net neutrality since the issue took the political stage.
“Her extensive record of advocacy over this period far outweighs any presumed political pandering to donors during her recent campaign for the top Democratic seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee,” Stewart wrote.
During the past decade, the House committee has been a major battleground for influence between Internet companies like Google and ISPs like Comcast and Verizon.
The committee’s top two Republicans, Chairman Fred Upton from Michigan and Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee, both of whose top campaign contributors include the nation’s major ISPs, have historically opposed net neutrality.
As of July 21, individuals and political action committees representing the computer and Internet industries have donated $137,490 to Eshoo’s re-election, second only to the pharmaceuticals and health products industries, which donated $172,798 thus far.
Eshoo’s top 10 donors for the 2013-2014 campaign cycle include indviduals and PACs affiliated with Hewlett-Packard, eHealth, Google, Kleiner Perkins et al, Gilead Sciences, Oracle, Standford University, Facebook, DISH Network and DirecTV.
Kleiner Perkins is one of several venture capitalist firms that backed Google in its infancy, and whose portfolio includes Facebook, Twitter and Uber.
As is the case for most members of Congress, Eshoo’s advocacy also promotes the economy where she lives — Menlo Park, home to Facebook’s global headquarters and Kleiner Perkins, and named by Time’s Money Magazine in 2013 as one of the “best places for the rich and single.”
Eshoo’s California congressional district includes the city of Mountain View, home to Google’s global headquarters.
The Center for Responsive Politics, which runs OpenSecrets.org, estimated Eshoo’s net worth was $2.1 million in 2012.
“Internet users know what they want and expect from the Internet, but these days all the jargon about net neutrality rules is making it difficult to know what box to check that advances their best interest,” said Eshoo in her announcement.
Contact Josh Peterson at [email protected]. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson