Does Former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt Really Want Improper Auction Proceeds From ICANN and Verisign?

The Feds and California’s Attorney General need to take a look at the redacted list of recipients in o.com auction.

Our free and open Internet is under assault by the very institutions charged with defending it. Without a significant course correction — and soon — then something is being lost that can’t ever be gotten back. 

As many spectators around the world look on, autocrats from Russia, China, and elsewhere are eagerly cheering the perfect storm of widespread apathy, gross mismanagement, and the wholesale abandoning of legitimate non-arbitrary Internet governance by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and, most alarmingly, the United States government. 

The resulting governance disaster is sharply illustrated by what seems on its face to be an innocuous auction of a domain name. But this domain name — o.com — is being held improperly by ICANN in violation both of its Bylaws as well as its existing legal agreements with the U.S. Department of Commerce.  

The proceeds from this illegitimate auction are earmarked for a secret list of seemingly thirteen non-profit organizations.  However, at least one of these non-profit organizations no longer appears to be operating while two others share the same founder and have since been merged — although the combined organization hasn’t issued a press release since October 2020.  Such inactivity isn’t novel and another secret recipient also hasn’t issued a press release since October 2019. 

Another of the secret non-profit recipients sells online safety certifications and was founded by former Utah governor Mike Leavitt along with his wife, both of whom currently serve on the organization’s board of directors.  Still another of the intended recipients describes itself as a “global industry forum” and counts such organizations as Google, Raytheon, and Siemens as dues-paying members.

Undoubtedly, some of these organizations do important work -- at least those still doing any work at all.  But why does a group run by the former governor of Utah and his wife or a global industry forum funded by huge multinational corporations such as Google and Raytheon -- or any other legitimate non-profit organization for that matter -- want  ill-gotten auction proceeds stemming from the sale of an improperly held domain name?  Are these organizations even aware of the particulars associated with their being included on this dubious list? It’s likely long past time for someone to ask them.

In any event, it is impossible for any sort of open evaluation of these organizations designated to receive millions of dollars in illegitimate auction proceeds since the list of beneficiaries itself has been mysteriously redacted since May 2019 and only one or two of the named non-profits have been evaluated by Charity Navigator, the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit evaluator, and these had scores that weren’t anything to write home about. (Author’s note: The preceding analysis was conducted using a copy of the beneficiaries list downloaded from ICANN’s website by the author on April 11, 2019.)

I’ve heard some sad little arguments — always made privately — as to why ICANN’s existing processes and protections oughtn’t to be followed in the case of o.com, yet these are mostly based on denial and willful ignorance of both the existing processes as well as exigent circumstances.  But what is never explained is why anybody is going along with a scheme so tacky and threadbare, so tired and obvious, that the only way it has a prayer for passing muster is if there is never any scrutiny at all. 

A secret list of non-profit organizations so fly-by-night that they aren’t rated by Charity Navigator or any other trusted organization, some of which no longer have operating websites or even if they do then their last press release was issued nearly three years ago? None of this instills any confidence or passes any sort of litmus test for good governance and the absence of corruption while serving the public interest — rather, this has plainly-seen hallmarks of gross impropriety and perhaps less obvious but faintly perceptible contours nonetheless of money “cleaning” in the vein of auctioning a banana duct-taped to a wall and calling it “art.”

Unfortunately, the U.S. government appears to have allowed itself to become tired and distracted from enforcing its legal agreements with ICANN and others — perhaps it will take a greater interest in the illegitimate auctioning of improperly held domain names such as o.com along with the mysterious tax-free pathways that such ill-gotten proceeds are intended to travel.