America’s Frontier Fund exemplifies the revolving door between the tech industry and government.
Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt is an example of how you can shape public policy without ever running for office.
A few months ago, the revelation of Schmidt’s deep involvement with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy raised ethics concerns as some questioned if it was appropriate for a tech billionaire to fund a government office that advises the president on tech policy.
Now, Schmidt, who has long been a go-to liaison between the tech industry and the military, is expanding his influence over US national security by helping fund a new investment fund called America’s Frontier Fund (AFF), according to a report by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), the research arm of the nonprofit ethics watchdog Campaign for Accountability.
America’s Frontier Fund isn’t your ordinary venture capital fund. In a leaked announcement draft obtained by TTP, AFF described itself as the first “public-private, deep-tech fund” in the US, meaning it would receive government funding alongside private money. After Recode followed up, the fund said the draft “was not approved and was never meant to be released. We do not describe ourselves that way. We only describe ourselves as a ‘non-profit deep tech fund.’”
AFF said that, to date, it has not yet received money from the government, but that it has responded to a request for information from the Department of Commerce about a semiconductor fund, which can be an early step in the process to receive funding from the government.
“We still don’t know exactly how AFF will be run,” Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, told Recode over email. “But it seems highly unusual for a billionaire to establish a venture capital fund for the purpose of steering taxpayer money into private companies.”
“The question is, where does the money come from?” said Jack Poulson, executive director at Tech Inquiry, a tech accountability nonprofit that tracks ties between Silicon Valley and the US government, particularly in the military and intelligence sectors.
What we do know is that on top of any potential government funding, AFF would use private and philanthropic funding to “help the United States and other democratic nations to develop critical technologies for collective prosperity and economic competitiveness,” an AFF spokesperson told Recode. That’s a priority that the US government shares — last year Congress passed the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 in an effort to bolster the nation’s ability to compete against China. Schmidt has been vocal about tech competition with China being a national security concern….