In a Fickle Shift, Tech Titans Embrace the GOP
Policy + Politics

In a Fickle Shift, Tech Titans Embrace the GOP

Reuters/Robert Galbraith

A reliable supporter of Democratic candidates in recent years, the tech industry seems to be making a right turn. These days, more and more of Silicon Valley’s campaign cash is flowing towards Republicans. 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a DC-based campaign finance watchdog, Democratic causes received 67 percent of the tech industry’s campaign money in 2008. In 2012, that proportion fell to 59 percent.  

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Of the top ten politicians who have received tech industry contributions in the 2014 election cycle, four of them were Republicans. Those who made the list include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), a tech-industry favorite. That’s up from just one Republican in the top ten during the 2010 election cycle. That year, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R-CA) – a Silicon Valley veteran herself – received over $200,000

To be sure, political loyalties wax and wane. Tech company political action committees supported mostly GOP candidates and their causes throughout the majority of the 1990s before aligning more with Democrats in the 2000s. Now, the balance is shifting back. 

Like all relationships, the Silicon Valley-Washington courtship is a two-way street. “The question isn't whether the Internet is siding with Democrats or Republicans, but whether Republicans and/or Democrats side with the Internet,” said Matt Schruers, a lawyer for the Computer and Communications Industry Association. “There's no reason the answer to both can't be yes.” 

Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, points to how far and how fast the tech industry has come in recent years. “As the industry matures and as the stakeholders become wealthier, their interests and priorities shift,” said Bryner. “In some cases, that might result in them moving in the direction of Republicans.” 

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But they aren’t the only ones making a move. 

“What may have changed the most is that Republicans are trying harder more recently to make connections [with tech industry leaders],” said Ed Black, president & CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association. 

It makes sense, given the growing amounts of money being poured into politics each year. In 2013, the computer and Internet industry ranked fourth in federal campaign contributions, giving a combined $141,226,592, up from $132,918,902 in 2012. 

Tech mogul Sean Parker is the latest and most public face to pivot towards the GOP. Parker has been a consistent Democratic contributor since he started funneling money to Washington in 2010, but his checks are now flowing to the GOP as well. 

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The 34-year-old co-founder of Napster, and Facebook’s first president, Parker recently gave $350,000 to a super PAC backing Senator Thad Cochran (R-MI) as he faced Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. As the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported, Parker has also donated over $10,000 to Marco Rubio and the conservative political action committee Reclaim America PAC. 

Although the Rubio contribution stands out to Bryner, she suggests Parker’s giving may have less to do with Republican candidates per se, and more to do with supporting mainstream candidates against those viewed as extremists. 

“He doesn’t seem to favor extreme ideologues,” said Bryner, referring to Parker’s contribution history. “As Congress has become more and more polarized, it may just be the case that he is trying to seek out those who he perceives to be centrists from both sides of the aisle.” 

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But Parker is not the only tech-titan to start funneling money towards Rubio, whom many consider the GOP’s rising star. Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg has donated nearly half of the $25,800 he has given so far in the 2014 election cycle to Rubio and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. 

Of course, the shift in campaign contributions may just be Politics 101: People give money to those in power, or those with a shot at being in power. The fact that Republicans control the House of Representatives may indeed play an important role. 

CCIA’s Black says “Internet” issues and “tech” issues are often distinct, and sometimes straddle political lines. For instance, he said, “Immigration has played a big role in tech contributions but isn't really an Internet issue per se.” 

He continued, “There are various issues that many in the tech industry care about, and some are a more natural fit with Democrats, others with Republicans, some neither,” said Black, citing examples of surveillance, privacy, civil liberties, trade, and education.   

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Republicans are seeing a greater share of Silicon Valley’s campaign cash, and tech industry leaders increasingly get their phone calls answered by both parties in Washington. After all, that’s politics. 

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