New tech think tank created

An analyst at a Democratic think tank now is starting his own, with some help from tech firms. He's also reaching out to Republicans.

A former analyst at a Democratic Party-affiliated group is starting his own technology think tank in Washington, D.C.

Robert Atkinson says his new think tank, called the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, will take a centrist approach and publish papers that are not dogmatically liberal or conservative. "If I have a world view, ideology or mission, it's pro-innovation," he said in an interview Monday.

Robert Atkinson
Robert Atkinson

Several large (but unnamed) technology companies have provided start-up funding, Atkinson said, making his foundation the latest entrant in an increasingly influential array of nonprofit groups and trade associations that attempt to shape laws dealing with the Internet and e-commerce. His foundation also will have close ties with the Information Technology Industry Council, which has a 2004 budget of $5.6 million.

A CNET special report published this week shows that 47 organizations active in technology policy and legislation have combined assets of about $1.1 billion, annual revenue of $573 million, and an average executive director salary of $332,665.

Atkinson previously was a vice president at the Progressive Policy Institute, an affiliate of the Democratic Leadership Council. Once headed by then-Gov. Bill Clinton, the DLC is now run by Al From, former executive director of the House Democratic Caucus.

In a town controlled by the Republican Party, think tanks with close ties to Democrats run the risk of being ignored. Atkinson has tried to remedy this by naming former Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn as a co-chairman and collecting endorsements from senior Republicans like Orrin Hatch, a Utah senator. (That also avoids the problem that the Electronics Industries Alliance encountered after it hired as its president Dave McCurdy, a Democratic politician, drawing the wrath of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.)

But reaching out to Republicans doesn't necessarily imply a laissez-faire approach. "I'm not opposed to saying there are certain types of cases where we need regulation," Atkinson said. "Spam is one."

Atkinson also likes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a bete noire of some digital rights groups and many programmers. "I don't think the DMCA went too far, for instance," he said. "I think the DMCA pretty much got it right."

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