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Obama names Doerr, Phillips to economic board

President names two Silicon Valley executives--who gave generously to Democratic politicians--to a committee charged with offering independent advice.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read

Two Silicon Valley leaders have been appointed by President Obama to a 16-person committee that's charged with offering economic advice during what has become an unusually sharp and deep recession.

John Doerr, the billionaire venture capitalist at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, is one. Doerr was involved in funding companies including Google, Amazon.com, Sun Microsystems, and Cypress Semiconductor; he currently serves on the board of companies including Amazon and Google and has recently turned his attention to green tech.

John Doerr
Kleiner Perkins investor John Doerr speaks at the MIT Energy Conference last spring. Martin LaMonica/CNET News

Charles Phillips, the president of Oracle, is another. Phillips became president in May 2003 and previously was with Morgan Stanley's Institutional Securities Division. He's a Linux aficionado and said in 2005: "On demand is the future of software for many years to come and we are building it on Linux."

On Friday, Obama said he hoped the group, called the Economic Advisory Board, will provide him and his staff with independent advice. The board's chairman will be Paul Volcker, the legendary chairman of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

"I created this board to enlist voices that come from beyond the echo chamber of Washington, D.C., and to ensure that no stone is unturned as we work to put people back to work and to get our economy moving," Obama said. We will meet regularly so that I can hear different ideas and sharpen my own, and seek counsel that is candid and informed by the wider world."

Both Doerr and Phillips have given to Democratic causes in the past. Doerr and his wife are some of the nation's largest political check writers, with $209,680 handed out through the 2006 election cycle, garnering a "Solidly Democratic" rating from OpenSecrets.org. Phillips handed money to Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry, and the exploratory senatorial committee for New Hampshire's Katrina Swett.

Charles Phillips
Oracle President Charles Phillips Oracle

Also appointed to the economic board is Laura D'Andrea Tyson, the dean of the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.

Still unclear is how much influence the board will have, especially because the president has so many other economic advisors. There's the Council of Economic Advisors, the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, and the Federal Reserve.

On Friday, Obama used the announcement to call for the swift passage of the so-called stimulus package, which started with a price tag of about $300 billion a few months ago and has swollen to nearly $1 trillion. "It is inexcusable and irresponsible to get bogged down in distraction and delay while millions of Americans are being put out of work," he said. "Every day that Washington fails to act, that recovery is delayed."

But many economists have argued the opposite, including in an advertisement in The New York Times, saying that the United States can't borrow its way to prosperity. And the current stimulus has been larded up with random spending projects like $870 million for flu prevention, $6 billion for drinking water projects, and $19.5 billion for school modernization--which is why the Democratic-controlled Congressional Budget Office estimated that only 8 percent of the proposed "stimulus" spending will take place in the 2009 fiscal year.

One of Obama's appointees, Doerr, has argued in favor of a massive diversion of taxpayer dollars to green tech. In March 2007, Doerr gave a speech at the TED conference approvingly citing Al Gore's views on global warming. "I'm really scared--I don't think we're going to make it," Doerr said. "There is a time when panic is the appropriate response. And we've reached that time."

Three years ago, Kleiner Perkins created a $100 million green tech fund, which has invested in technologies including solar cells, fuel cells, smart grid, ethanol, and synthetic fuels. Not-so-coincidentally, Doerr has lobbied for laws at the state level--and, more recently, as part of the "stimulus" proposal--that would benefit his portfolio by moving toward smart grid, solar, and other technology.