In June 2011, Google had a problem. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had opened multiple investigations into whether the tech giant illegally favored its own shopping and travel sites in search engine queries; restricted advertisers from running ads on competing sites; and copied rival search engines’ results.
To fight this threat, Google turned to a key third-party validator: academia, and in particular one university with a long history as an advocate for corporate interests.
From the beginning of the FTC investigation through the end of 2013, Google gave George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center (LEC) $762,000 in donations, confirmed by cancelled checks obtained in a public records request. In exchange, the LEC issued numerous studies supporting Google’s position that they committed no legal violations, and hosted conferences on the same issues where Google representatives suggested speakers and invitees.
A professor at George Mason and author of many pro-Google studies, Joshua Wright, even later became an FTC Commissioner.