Tech giants make power play for ally

Greg Nash

Silicon Valley is putting its lobbying weight behind Rep. Anna Eshoo’s bid to become the top Democrat on a powerful committee.

Eshoo is the Valley’s congresswoman, representing the part of California where companies like Apple, Google and Facebook are based, so her ascension to ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee would be a coup for the industry.

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But in order to take the coveted position, Eshoo would have to leapfrog Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), which is a tough sell for Democrats who have a vested interest in preserving the seniority system.

Though the Democratic Caucus likely won’t vote on committee assignments until after the election, tech industry lobbyists and chief executives are already meeting with individual Democrats to try and pull them into Eshoo’s camp.

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group — which “represents more than 390 of Silicon Valley’s most respected employers,” according to its site — is gathering signatures on a letter expressing the industry’s strong support for Eshoo as ranking member.

The group’s CEO, Carl Guardino, said major players from “the innovation economy,” including biotechnology and venture capital companies, have already signed the letter.

“It’s almost unprecedented from us” to get involved in a leadership race, he said. “All the more reason that we hope it will be a data point for thoughtful members to consider.”

As of Monday afternoon, the group was still collecting signatures on the letter.

“You will be impressed when you see the breadth and depth of the CEOs willing to take a public position on this,” he said. “We think this is so important to the policy decisions driving our economy’s future … and we wouldn’t do that for just anyone.”

Eshoo’s office declined to comment on the letter.

Winning the second-highest spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee would give Eshoo power over the agenda of the committee, which has wide-ranging jurisdiction over the economy. It would also put her in line for the gavel if Democrats win back the House.

“The tech industry is excited and demonstrating she is the voice of the future, and that’s good for the committee and the [Democratic] Party,” said Josh Ackil, a lobbyist at Franklin Square Group, a firm that represents many of the largest tech clients, including Apple, Google, Intuit and the Internet Association.

“We’re not going to waste any time getting up to Capitol Hill and talking to members on Anna’s behalf,” Ackil said.

The top Democratic slot on the panel opened up in late January, when Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), now the ranking Democrat, announced his plans to retire.

Eshoo jumped into the race and won the backing of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who made the unusual move of taking sides in a leadership contest.

But Eshoo is still facing a tough fight against Pallone, a member with more seniority and leadership positions under his belt. Without endorsing Pallone explicitly, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has made clear he thinks seniority should take precedence in the race.

One lobbyist with ties to New Jersey said the lobbying push by Silicon Valley could backfire on Eshoo if the effort is seen as an attempt by the industry to dominate the committee.

“Not everyone in the tech industry is for her,” the lobbyist said, noting that many tech and telecom companies are based outside of California. 

“If the race was solely based on the Silicon Valley tech community, that’s one thing, but the Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over a whole array of industries, and this is a small slice of just one of them,” he said.  

“Something like this could easily backfire. The folks who will be voting on this — the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, progressives — are going to care about more than a slice of one industry.”

In February, Eshoo bolstered her committee bid by filing paperwork for a leadership political action committee, Anna PAC, which she can use to funnel campaign cash to colleagues.

Eshoo has long been a heavyweight fundraiser. In the last three election cycles, she donated more than $2.3 million to federal candidates and committees, according to an analysis of election records by The Hill.

The leadership PAC started its fundraising drive earlier this month at a Capitol Hill townhouse owned by Oracle, and turnout was robust.

“It was as packed as our townhouse has ever been. It was really very, very successful — and I have to say, it was not very hard [to raise money],” said Jason Mahler, the vice president of government affairs at Oracle and former Eshoo chief of staff.

“[There was] not a lot of arm twisting. … People were remarkably eager to help.”

It’s unclear how much the event brought in, but an invitation obtained by The Hill listed 92 “hosts” who each shelled out $5,000 for the privilege, which makes for a total a haul of at least $460,000. 

The list of attendees included some of K Street’s most influential rainmakers and fundraisers, including Tony Podesta, Al Mottur, David Castagnetti and Jack Quinn, as well as former Reps. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) and Ron Klink (D-Pa.). 

Officials from Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile, Twitter, Apple, Cisco Systems, Google and Hewlett Packard were also on hand, with guests each paying $1,000; $2,500 or $5,000 for a ticket.

“You can’t automatically assume that you’re next in line — you’ve got to be up on the issues, and doing things and moving. And that’s Eshoo’s case,” said Ackil, who was a host at the party. 

Ed Black, CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said the tech industry is supporting Eshoo because of her legislative track record.

“Eshoo has been a longtime leader on many issues of importance to the industry,” including security issues and issues related to the openness of the Internet,” said Black, whose group includes Google, Facebook and Yahoo as well as wireless companies T-Mobile and Sprint.

“There’s little doubt that her leadership has commanded a lot of respect and affection from many, not just in the tech industry, but her colleagues,” he said.

Eshoo is a founding member and co-chairwoman of the Congressional Internet Caucus, and also serves as co-chairwoman of the House Information Technology Working Group. She now exerts influence as the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

“She works hard within the [Democratic] caucus to champion innovation issues. Tech wants to see the caucus work more in new economy issues, and I think this is a good exercise,” Ackil says.

“You’ve got to be more nimble and more independent thinking. I think shaking s--t up at the committee level is a good thing,” he added. “From a tech perspective, that’s how we do things.”

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