The announcement this week that Al and Tipper Gore have separated brought back a number of memories. I first worked with Al Gore's office in 1990, when I was an employee of the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, working with the American Library Association (ALA) and other library groups to overturn a Reagan era policy that privatized the distribution of government databases. Among other things, I had worked with Representative Charlie Rose to introduce a bill in the House of Representatives to create an online distribution system at the Government Printing Office (GPO). This was very controversial at the time, as the documents were then only available at very high prices from a handful of commercial databases such as Westlaw, Lexis or DIALOG, groups with powerful Washington DC lobbyists working for them, such as Steve Metalitz or the late Ron Plesser.
We approached Al Gore's office through his science advisor, Dr. Michael Nelson, to be the senate sponsor of the legislation. Senator Gore was then known as the main proponent of and expert on the Internet in the Congress. Senator Gore did introduce the bill, which eventually became law when reintroduced with Senator Ted Stevens after the Republicans took over the Senate.
Later I meet with Senator Gore in the White House when he was Vice President, in a small meeting with Ralph Nader, John Richard and myself. My job was to talk to Gore about patents on government funded inventions. Gore had written a very good article before saying the public should not have to "pay twice" for research, arguing for more open access to government funded inventions. But in that meeting, Gore simply said "that was then" and announced he had changed his mind and did not want government funded inventions to "lie fallow" as a consequence of being subject to open licenses. I also brought up a bitter dispute about access to legal documents, hoping that Gore would be a champion for broader public access. What I did not know at the time, but learned later, was that Gore was close friends and a frequent recipient of campaign contributions from the Opperman family, which then owned the West Publishing legal publishing monopoly. Gore himself would never be helpful in breaking the West Publishing monopoly over court opinions, and the White House, probably at the direction of Bill Clinton himself, intervened in 1996 to kill an antitrust investigation into West Publishing. (Ironically, the heavy handed tactics with the DOJ over West Publishing contributed to a rebellion at the DOJ in 1997 to support an antitrust action against Microsoft over the browser, which we also worked on.)
By 1997, Robert Weissman and I were asked by the government of South Africa to deal with intense trade pressures from Vice President Al Gore in a dispute involving patents on medicines. This is the letter that Ralph Nader, Rob and I wrote to Al Gore on July 29, 1997 about the South Africa dispute. Many other letters and memos followed. See this timeline of South Africa to appreciate how extensive the US pressure on South Africa was.
Gore never personally responded to the letters, and his position on the medical patent issues did not change until 1999, after AIDS activists began to disrupt this campaign. (Ralph Nader later cited Gore's role in pressuring South Africa on the patent issue as a major -- if not the major -- motivation for running against Gore in 2000.)
In early 1999, a friend of mine, Declan McCullagh, wrote an article on Wired.com that became the basis of the myth that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet. Declan's own account of this is: "The Mother of Gore's Invention." Gore never used the word "invent" for anything. Gore was rightly taking credit for his early support and leadership in federal policies that were instrumental in the development of the Internet, but to this day, the myth that Gore claimed to have "invented the Internet" lives on.
It was in 1999 that I met Tipper Gore and Arianna Huffington.
In June 1999, I was sitting in an airplane at Dulles that was stuck on the tarmac, waiting to take off to California. Tipper Gore came by to talk to Clark Ray, a staffer for Tipper, and the person sitting next to me on a six hour flight. I spent a lot of the six hours talking to Ray about Al Gore's role in pressuring South Africa and other developing country governments over medical patents. A week later, AIDS activists began to disrupt Gore's campaign appearances, beginning with the launch of the campaign in Carthage, Tennessee, and appearances in New Hampshire and New York City immediately thereafter.
In 1999 I also received a call from Arianna Huffington, who was interested in the dispute about Gore. She wrote an op-ed titled "Pharmacologic Al," which reported on Gore's role in pressuring South Africa on the drug patent issue. At the time Arianna was considered a conservative Republican, and her article led to a defense of Al Gore by the Weekly Standard.
As the "Zaps"proceeded, there was near bedlam in the campaign over the protests by AIDS activists. Tipper reportedly stepped in and told Al Gore and his campaign staff this was a serious issue and they would have to get on top of it. "They have a point," she said. Within weeks, the U.S. policy behind 20 years of harsh and deadly trade pressure on medical patents in developing countries began to change.