Condi Rice, ICANN, and millions paid to lobby the US govt for total internet control

Your domain renewal dollars at work, people

Show me the money

At ICANN's public meeting in Dublin in October, we asked ICANN's CEO about these massive expenditures. Chehade pointed us to his org's latest IRS 990 form that reported how much was spent on lobbying last year, adding ICANN will spend close to $700,000 (£455,000) this year.

Crucially, the chief exec disagreed that Rice Hadley Gates is a lobby group, arguing: "Companies like RGM, the company of Condoleezza Rice ... they're not lobbyists." Meaning money thrown their way does not have to be disclosed. Rules are rules, and ICANN is following them to the letter.

So just how much has ICANN spent on applying political pressure to get its own way with IANA? It's hard to know exactly. But if you find the page on ICANN's website that lists spending on the IANA transition and download the PDF, it is possible to make an estimate.

A one-page pie chart [PDF] lists "other professional services" at $3.1m (£2m). However, if you dig in further and download a second PDF with a better breakdown of figures, another number appears.

This document is titled "FY15 USG Stewardship Transition" [PDF] and under "professional services" for the line item "Transition of U.S. Government stewardship of IANA functions" is the $3.1m figure. That number makes up just under 70 per cent of the costs for the transition, and another figure notes that this was $1.4m (£900,000) or 45 per cent over budget.

There is a second line item called "Strengthen ICANN Governance & Accountability," and under professional services for that is the figure $3.0m, which accounts for 77 per cent of the complete cost. That line item was budgeted to be $2.3m (£1.5m) so the expenditure is already 70 per cent over budget.

It's worth noting that these expenditures are also for ICANN's financial year – meaning that they only cover July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 – so they don't cover what ICANN has spent in the past four months.

How much has ICANN spent on lobbying conversations with American power brokers so far this year? The answer is likely somewhere between $1.5m and $6m (£1m and £3.9m). But our best guess would be the amount that ICANN formally discloses – which Chehade said would be around $700,000 in 2015 – combined with the $2.4m that was not budgeted for under "professional services." So $3.1m (£2m).

That figure incidentally puts ICANN in the top 50 of all corporations in the United States in terms of lobbyist spending. That figure will continue to grow as the IANA transition plan moves from being the internet community's problem to the US government's problem in the new year.

The fact that ICANN is being so coy about figures, even when asked directly in public to reveal them, is perhaps the best indication that it knows its actions would not be met favorably if publicly disclosed.

We have asked ICANN for a full breakdown of its "professional services" expenditure, including the companies it has hired and the amounts it has spent on them, and will report back if the organization decides to provide them.

Mistake

Unfortunately, the internet community just gave away its right to force the organization to reveal more and to lift the veil on what the organization does under the mantle of "professional services."

The shift to a "designator" model may have made for good politics and allowed attendees in Dublin to feel a sense of accomplishment, but it comes without a legal "right of inspection" and so such practices and expenditures are likely to continue unchecked.

Having realized this, the working group is now trying to add that right back in. But the move has already met repeated opposition from ICANN, and many of the benefits that would have come automatically from the member model have already be put off to some unspecified future date in the name of expediency.

Even if ICANN can be forced to add a right of inspection, if history is anything to go by it will be a protracted process to get information each time, severely limiting its usefulness.

The last person that attempted to take a look at ICANN's books was an actual board member. The organization refused and Karl Auerbach had to take ICANN to court to exercise his legal right.

The internet community is likely to regret its hasty compromise. ®




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