Tech Companies Funding the 2012 US Elections

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October 21, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe

With the US elections hotting up before the big day next month, and polls putting Obama and Romney neck and neck, you can expect speeches and promises blurted out left, right and centre. But often the real tell of where priorities lie can be found in the contributors list.

The truth is, without the funds to keep the machine rolling, election campaigns seize up very quickly. Estimates put the cost of this year’s contest at a record high of around $6 billion. The Super-PACs (Political Action Committees) have been receiving much of the press attention, due to them being allowed to accept donations of unlimited size from almost any source- individual, corporate or union- the only stipulation being they have to spend the money independently of candidates. As Silicon Valley grows in importance and influence, it’s inevitable that technology companies become embroiled in politics, and at this time of year it’s time to nail your colours to the mast and get behind your Presidential candidate of choice. Which company funds which candidate is a tell-tale sign of who the companies predict will make life easier for them post-election.

Obama

In June, we wrote how Obama and Romney would impact technology, and BO definitely seemed to come out on top. So unsurprisingly, as the man who has promised to protect science and tech funding, tech companies seem to be favouring the incumbent. According to Buzzfeed, tech people account for over $27 million of the $690 million Obama has raised so far.

According to Opensecrets Microsoft and Google are two of Obama’s three biggest donators, the two companies’ employees and related groups contributing around half a million dollars each to his cause. Lower down the list, telecoms company Comcast has given $260,000, while IBM has donated $200,000. When speaking to Bloomberg, it seems the tech community are choosing Obama because they see him as man with a similar vision. “This is an industry that embraces people who talk about what the future is going to be,” said Rusty Rueff, a Hillsborough, California-based consultant and investor in technology companies, and national co-chairman of the ‘Technology for Obama’ group. “As we talk about what the president wants to do, there’s not a lot of, ‘Woe is us.'” Instead, he said, “‘It’s, ‘Great, let’s make things better.'”

Obama’s tech-support first appeared during his maiden presidential campaign. Google’s Eric Schmidt was an early supporter, as was Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. After he was elected, Obama pinched several Googlers and other techies for an advisory board. Their vocal support in 2008 was only matched by the depths of their wallets; Microsoft and Google each gave $800,000, and IBM $500,000.

Even when it comes to Super PACs, tech companies are still donating large amounts to BO. Priorities USA Actionhas received $2 million apiece from Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chief executive of Dreamworks Animation and Irwin Jacobs, the founder of chipmaker Qualcomm. Medical technology companies are also chipping in, no doubt in response to Obama-care, with D.E. Shaw Research and Masimo donating hundreds of thousands.

Romney

The Republican and Romney’s relationship with big business is well-known – financial companies are by far the biggest donators to the Mitt machine. While that doesn’t mean the tech companies have abandoned him, there’s still a game of catch-up to be played. According to Buzzfeed, tech-backed funding accounts for around $27 million of the incumbent’s $690 million raised so far. The New York Times puts the challenger’s total at $2 million for the end of August. While that is a decent improvement on the $1.7 million John McCain managed to raise in 2008, there’s still a big gap.

Where Obama’s biggest donators features the likes of Microsoft, Google and IBM, who all together donated upwards of a million dollars, the only tech name on Romney’s list is EMC, who have altogether donated $250,000 this year. While the numbers are significantly different, this can be seen as a victory for the Republicans; the same three tech companies donated over $2 million to BO in ’08 while McCain managed to gain $200,00 from telecoms company AT&T and didn’t have the backing of a Super PAC to gain extra donations.

On an individual level, some tech investors do seem to be backing Romney. According to the NY Times, Marc Andreessen, a prominent venture capitalist and Facebook investor has put in over $100,000 for Romney, both this year and for his failed 2007 bid, in stark contrast with a $4,600 contribution for BO in 2008. Other Facebook backers and tech investors have said they find Romney’s business background appealing.

But concerns about Romney’s potential impact on the tech sector and his refusal of net neutrality have no doubt had an impact on his standing within tech industry. Meanwhile the $6.9 billion to expand high-speed wireless Internet access included in Obama’s stimulus plan, backing of net neutrality, and support of tech giants such as Google’s Eric Schmidt, all play into BO’s favour. Overall, it seems Romney has suffered from not putting technology as a big focus of his campaign.

2012 has been the year of the Super PAC. Obama’s Priorities USA Action boasts multi-million dollar donations from Chief executive of Dreamworks Animation Jeffrey Katzenberg as well as Irwin Jacobs, the founder of chipmaker Qualcomm. But Mitt’s primary PAC, Restore Our Future, has also taken some big tech names into the fold. Former Dell President Kevin Rollins has donated over $350,000, while Meg Whitman, Chief of HP, has given $100,000 and software company Jenzabar Inc. has thrown in $250,000. These are some big numbers, but it’s worth noting that all of these donors have links to Bain, the company where Romney made his millions.

Right now the race is too close to call. While the figures show that the tech industry ultimately stands by Obama, as they did in ’08, whether their money will be as well spent is yet to be seen.

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