The head of the newly launched Open Markets Institute may be a principled crusader, but he’s also clearly a canny PR strategist.
Barry Lynn was let go from the left-leaning think tank New America following what appeared to be political pressure from Google. Lynn has persistently criticized the search giant as a market-subverting monopoly, but it also funded New America generously.
The firing left New America with a substantial black eye, creating the strong appearance that its output of policy papers and opinion pieces was shaped by its donors (shocking, I know). The scandal has been a boon for Lynn, though, who has moved quickly to launch a stand-alone version of his anti-monopoly group. According to a deep dive by Politico, it will actually be larger than it was under New America.
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Lynn’s newly independent Open Markets Intitute has already launched a public letter-writing campaign demanding that Google (GOOGL) “stop shutting down monopoly research now.” More broadly, the group will agitate against businesses that are too powerful and centralized. Lynn argues that emergent giants like Amazon and Google make the economy more stagnant and fragile, and need to be controlled more aggressively using existing antitrust law. The European Union has agreed, fining Google a record amount for abusing its search dominance to squash competing shopping-data services. Lynn’s approving statement on that decision was the most direct cause of the split between New America and Open Markets.
That’s a position that the Democratic Party, which has found big allies in the tech world, has been slow to embrace. But Lynn aims to influence candidates and voters ahead of the 2018 midterms, potentially deepening already-growing tensions between centrist and leftist factions of the party.
The head of New America, Ann-Marie Slaughter, has alleged that Lynn executed a “carefully planned campaign” to undermine New America’s reputation and generate a David-vs-Goliath narrative for his own group. Slaughter also maintains that Lynn’s departure was more about “dishonest” professional behavior than the content of his research — but has acknowledged the fundamental “tension” between relying on private donors and maintaining an organization’s intellectual independence.