By Ian Swanson and Alexander Bolton - 09/06/07 07:54 PM EDT
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) are running neck and neck in the race to raise campaign dollars in Silicon Valley, a key source of funds for both candidates that could have an impact on either’s policies as president.
Clinton has raised more cash for the Democratic primary in America’s technology capital, but her lead is slim. Her campaign has collected $1.16 million in funds that can be used in primary season compared to $1.12 for Obama, according to a study of Federal Election Commission (FEC) records conducted by The Hill.
While Clinton has ties to Silicon Valley dating to her husband’s administration, Obama supporters say their candidate embodies the values of the tech-sector.
“He fits the model of what they’re looking for,” said Wade Randlett, who helped create a Silicon Valley trade association during the 1990s and now is one of Obama’s national finance committee members. “He’s someone who is at his core an agent for change who disrupts the applications of how [the political process is] supposed to happen.”
“He’s young and global,” Randlett said. “That’s part of the valley’s DNA and that’s part of Barack’s DNA.”
One independent political expert, however, said that Obama has kept valley donors intrigued by remaining elusive on issues where the tech sector disagrees with labor unions and trial lawyers, traditional Democratic constituencies.
Specifically, labor union leaders and tech-sector entrepreneurs disagree on immigration and trade issues.
“The main thing is they are very pro-free trade and pro-immigration,” a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Jasjeet Sekhon, said of tech-sector priorities. “The valley doesn’t buy the argument that if we import a lot of talent from India and China we’re going to undermine American workers. That’s where there’s tension.
“Obama’s very artful in not being crystal-clear in what his position is on these issues,” said Sekhon, who once owned a software development company and follows valley politics. “They like Obama because he’s a fresh face, but his ambiguity on trade has not gone unnoticed.”
Candidates from both parties are traveling to the region earlier than ever before for fundraisers hosted by well-known high-tech presidents and venture capitalists, according to sources in the valley. They’re motivated in part by the California primary, which along with many other states’ has been moved up to Feb. 5.
Both Democrats and Republicans have been sure to highlight policy positions favored by Silicon Valley companies.
So-called green technology has become a hot topic among entrepreneurs who believe that technological innovation could both solve environmental challenges and earn them hundreds of millions of dollars.
Clinton has proposed a $50 billion strategic energy fund that would include $9 billion dedicated toward developing alternative energies. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has also focused on environment-friendly innovation.
“Edwards is doing well in Silicon Valley because he has a very strong policy on global warming,” an Edwards campaign official said, noting that Edwards spent a whole week this year discussing his “green-collar jobs initiative,” a proposal to train 150,000 workers a year in new energy economy jobs.
Despite this, Edwards lags behind Obama and Clinton in Silicon Valley fundraising. Edwards has raised $481,813 through June 30, a fraction of his rivals’ totals.
Obama and Clinton also have far outpaced the Republican field. The top three GOP candidates combined have raised a little more than $1 million.
Whether the edge over Edwards reflects state and national trends or unease with his career as a trial lawyer remains unclear. Republican fundraiser Floyd Kvamme, a supporter of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, thinks Edwards is a tough sell in Silicon Valley because of an antipathy to trial lawyers.
“I’d be shocked if John Edwards did well out there,” he said.
Democrats and Republicans alike have made frequent visits to forge connections in what is fast becoming a major Democratic fundraising hub along with San Francisco and Hollywood.
Silicon Valley leaders have given more in political contributions in recent years as their interest in Washington policymaking has grown.
“In each election cycle since the early ’90s they have become more and more engaged,” said Terry Christensen, a political science professor at San Jose State University who specializes in California politics. “In the early ’90s with the tort reform debate they began to engage. With every election there’s been more money and engagement and most of all in this election.”
Presidential candidates have responded with aggressive outreach. In May, Clinton chose to unveil her 10-point innovation agenda during a sold-out event sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. More recently, Edwards spoke to the group, and Obama is expected to give a policy talk soon.
Candidates have also visited Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and numerous fundraisers have been held in their honor.
Yet how this will translate into influence for the high-tech community, which traditionally has had less clout on policy than organized labor, remains to be seen. “We’re an industry with deep pockets and short arms,” the president of the Information Technology Association of America, Phil Bond, said.
Still, high tech’s dollars could have a moderating influence on a Democratic nominee’s position on issues such as trade, Bond and others say.
“When Barack Obama comes here and sees the tremendous innovation and success stories, and it’s because the technology is global and sells in global markets, I absolutely think it has an impact on their philosophies,” a fundraiser for Obama, John Roos, said.
Key Silicon Valley officials and who they’re supporting:
Sheryl Sandberg, Google vice president global online sales and operations
Mark Chandler, Cisco general counsel
Alix Burns, Bay Bridge Strategies president, finance director for Gore 2000
Greg Avis, Summit Partners founding managing partner
Ted Waitt, Gateway founder and former chairman, CEO
Sue Bostrom, Cisco senior vice president
John Hartnett, Palm, Inc., senior vice president global markets
Greg Gallo, DLA Piper partner
Adam Grosser, Foundation Capital general partner
Lorraine Hariton, Beatnik board of directors chair
Talat Hasan, Sensys Instruments founder
Don Listwin, Canary Foundation founder, former Openwave founder, Cisco executive
Chris Melching, Forum for Women Entrepreneurs & Executives CEO
Chuck Parrish, Openwave Systems, Inc. co-founder
Charles Phillips, Oracle president
Amy Rao, Integrated Archive Systems founder and CEO
Larry Stone, Santa Clara County assessor
Andy Rappaport, August Capital partner
David desJardins, former Google engineer
Steve Kirsch, Propel founder
John Roos, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati CEO
John Thompson, Symantec Corp. CEO
Shelby Bonnie, CNET founder
Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder
Marc Andreessen, Netscape founder
Steve Westly, Westly Group CEO, former eBay official
Ronnie Lott, HRJ Capital partner, NFL Hall of Fame
John Riccitiello, Electronic Arts CEO
Chad Hurley, YouTube founder
David Drummond, Google senior vice president
Floyd Kvamme, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers partner
Michael Kim, Rustic Canyon Partners
Pete Constant, San Jose city councilman
John Chambers, Cisco chairman and CEO
Carley Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard president and CEO
Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com chairman and CEO
Tony Perkins, Red Herring magazine, AlwaysOn network creator
Meg Whitman, eBay president and CEO
Paul Otellini, Intel Corp. president and CEO
Tim Draper, Draper Fisher Jurvetson