Business & Lobbying

Tech cash skews to Democrats

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Employees at four of the nation’s largest technology companies have given the majority of their political dollars to Democratic candidates and causes, federal records show.

Democrats have received more than 80 percent of the $2.4 million in donations that workers at Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple gave directly to candidates and causes affiliated with a party during the 2016 campaign cycle, with the presidential election driving much of the contributions. The proportion that went to Democrats falls to 60 percent when corporate PAC giving is included in the total.

{mosads}Beyond giving to candidates, Silicon Valley employees have favored left-leaning causes, including the pro-gun-control Americans for Responsible Solutions; Mayday PAC and Wolf PAC, which encourage campaign finance reform; and EMILY’s List, an organization that works to elect women who support abortion rights.

The workers who donated range from top executives to lower-level software engineers.

“I think any candidate, Republican or Democrat, wants to be associated with the tech community and Silicon Valley. It gives you a street cred in that space to say that you’re being supported by that community,” said David Thomas, a partner at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas and former chief of staff to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley.

The liberal bent of the donations is likely to fuel suspicions on the right about Silicon Valley, which has long faced charges of showing favoritism to Democratic officials and their causes. But some say the trend in giving is more reflective of the political climate in California.

“Not to minimize the role of campaign contributions, but in fundraising in Silicon Valley and Seattle, politicians are listening to what the people in the Bay Area are thinking about,” said Lee Drutman, senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America. “They’re not buying policy outcomes directly, but they’re buying an audience.”

While some employees at the four tech companies have given money to political action committees or to tech industry groups — which also dole out cash to candidates — they have mostly made the donations themselves, directly to candidates.

Only 19 percent of the more than $1.3 million donated by Google employees in the 2016 cycle, for example, has gone to industry groups and the Google NetPAC, the company’s political action committee.

Sixty-eight percent of the remaining political cash from Google employees went directly to Democratic candidates and committees, with Republicans receiving 12 percent, according to an analysis by The Hill. The Libertarian National Committee received 2 percent.

Google has been accused of having a cozy relationship with the Obama administration, with company officials averaging about one visit per week to the White House since Obama took office. Google rejects the charges of favoritism and says many of the visits either took place with other tech industry officials or were for
innocuous projects like photographing the White House art collection for Google’s Art Project.

While Google employees are donating more money to Democrats, the company’s official corporate PAC has played it down the middle.

Google NetPAC has distributed $1.4 million during the 2016 cycle, with 49 percent going to Democratic candidates and lawmakers and 51 percent going to Republicans. It had more than $1.6 million in the bank at the end of April, the most recent reporting period.

The PACs for Amazon and Facebook also show a near 50-50 split among donations to Republicans and Democrats. There is a slight edge to the GOP, likely because Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate.

Bruce Cain, a political science professor at Stanford University, said big companies typically avoid playing favorites even if their employees skew toward one side of the aisle.

“You can distinguish between the more cautious corporate strategy of firms versus the unadulterated view of people who work in those firms,” Cain said.

Alone among Silicon Valley giants, Apple remains without a PAC for campaign giving, which reflects how the company’s late CEO Steve Jobs was famously contemptuous of Washington.

Employees at Apple have donated more than $575,000 in the 2016 cycle, with 78 percent of it going to Democrats. Roughly half of that money went to fund the presidential campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

More than half of Apple’s $104,138 in Republican donations went to vulnerable Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). That money came from some of the company’s top executives, including CEO Tim Cook.

Workers at Amazon contributed $452,691 to politics this cycle overall and $239,220 to Republicans and Democrats directly, with 38 percent of that cash given to Democratic candidates and causes. 

Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos, who is often described as having libertarian political beliefs. Between its employees and its political action committee, Amazon is by far the top contributor to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, having given roughly $50,000 so far.

Facebook employees have given more than $382,000 directly to political candidates and causes, with 78 percent of that going Democrats. Workers spent an additional $193,323 on contributions to the Facebook PAC. 

The social networking company was recently caught in a political firestorm after it was accused of suppressing conservative stories in its trending  topics feature. The company said it found no deliberate bias on the trending feature and has tried to mend fences with the GOP by flying out prominent conservatives to meet with CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Representatives for Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon either did not respond or declined to comment for this article.

Silicon Valley is an increasingly critical fundraising stop for both parties.

Democrats and Republicans drop in to fundraise from tech companies and are sometimes surprised by the array of issues that come up, said Thomas, the lobbyist and former aide.

“They expect to only get questions about patent reform or high-skilled visas — your standard tech issues — but more often than not, they get questions about issues that employees are more passionate about. It could be LGBT issues, income equality or comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.

“I think it’s because these employees are progressive about the issues they care about, and that might not be the same issues that their companies lobby on in D.C.”

Read more from The Hill:

Silicon Valley workers send more cash to Clinton

Tags Bernie Sanders Hillary Clinton Jason Chaffetz Rob Portman

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