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Silicon Valley shows its primary colors

TechCrunch TechCrunch 7/06/2016 Kate Conger and Sarah Buhr

In 2008, two senators battled it out during the Democratic primaries. However, several Silicon Valley CEOs and investors poured early financing into one particular candidate – Hillary Clinton.

Chris Sacca, an early investor in Twitter, Uber and Instagram, also bet early on Clinton, contributing to her campaign in July 2006. Bill Gates and Sheryl Sandberg both contributed to Clinton in 2007 before becoming major donors to President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. And Carl Icahn, the investor who has endorsed presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, was previously a Clinton fan, having contributed to her senatorial campaign in 2004.

Billionaire investors have a habit of playing both sides and plenty donated to Obama’s 2008 campaign as well as Clinton’s. But Silicon Valley seems to have cooled on Clinton since her last presidential campaign.

Clinton has yet to net donations from many CEOs and investors in the Valley, even a few who backed her 2008 campaign, according to a TechCrunch analysis of political donations from more than two-dozen well-known investors and entrepreneurs.

Sacca, who donated $100,000 to Clinton’s campaign in March 2016, is a notable exception, as is Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who began contributing to Clinton’s campaign in May 2015 after initially backing Marco Rubio. But other donors to her 2008 campaign, such as Gates and Vinod Khosla, have yet to reopen their checkbooks.

It’s possible that Clinton is suffering from the compression that’s hitting the tech industry. The funding market is frothy and investors aren’t giving as freely to startups as they were a few years ago. It’s also possible that Clinton isn’t wowing Silicon Valley as much as she did in the run-up to the 2008 election.

I am looking for a free market candidate who also wants an efficient e-government. … Maybe one who recognizes that the Blockchain is the perfect bureaucrat.
— Tim Draper, investor

Even though Clinton hasn’t received many donations from tech investors early in the race, money is starting to trickle in. In addition to donations from Musk, Sacca and Sandberg, Clinton’s campaign recently received $298,000 from Sean Parker, the Napster founder who has also backed the Marco Rubio and Rand Paul presidential campaigns. (The Federal Election Commission can lag up to 30 days in its publication of campaign finance data, so contributions made in the last month may not be reflected here.)

Clinton has also rallied support from the tech industry at several recent fundraisers.

In February, Joyus CEO Sukhinder Singh Cassidy hosted a fundraiser for Clinton at her home, asking for donations between $500 and $2,700. Shervin Pishevar, a venture capitalist and early Uber investor, hosted a dinner for Clinton at his San Francisco home in April at which guests could pay $353,400 to sit at a table with Clinton, George Clooney and his wife, Amal Clooney. (Clooney later called the fundraiser’s price tag “obscene” during an NBC interview.)

The people’s Bern

Venture capitalists haven’t given the same warm welcome to Clinton’s opponent in the primary. At the top tiers of tech, Bernie Sanders seems as untouchable as Trump — none of the donors reviewed by TechCrunch gave to the Sanders or Trump campaigns.

Sanders may not have appealed to VCs, but he continued to rack up small dollar donations from workers. According to an analysis conducted by Crowdpac and confirmed by TechCrunch, Sanders received contributions from 5,319 supporters in Silicon Valley zipcodes, compared to Clinton’s 766 donors and Trump’s measly seven donors.

The Bay Area is filled with idealistic, young progressives who support Sanders’s messages of reform on campaign finance, banking and housing. But Silicon Valley also has a strong libertarian streak.

Tim Draper, an investor known for his libertarian beliefs, told TechCrunch he does not see a candidate who supports his interests in the current race. Draper gave heavily to the right in past years but said he didn’t see a worthy candidate in the 2016 field.

“I am looking for a free market candidate who also wants an efficient e-government. Perhaps one who will both cap taxes and give a basic income to citizens, based on what is left after government spending. Maybe one who recognizes that the Blockchain is the perfect bureaucrat — fair, honest and incorruptible,” Draper said. “Not seeing one running for president this time.”

But yesterday afternoon, the AP declared that Clinton had clinched enough superdelegate support to secure the nomination, so perhaps Sanders supporters in Silicon Valley will shift their financial backing to her.

Today’s primaries in New Jersey and California are expected to earn Clinton the final votes she needs for the nomination.

Trump slump

Although Trump has yet to generate financial backing in Silicon Valley, several investors have voiced support for the unusual Republican candidate — they just haven’t backed up their words with cash yet.

Many long-time Republican supporters in the Valley seem unsure of who to bankroll this election cycle. A handful of tech billionaires have given heavily to Republican candidates and causes over the past decade, but Trump wasn’t the first choice of many right-leaning investors whose donations were reviewed by TechCrunch. Several titans of capital instead gave to Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina. Rubio seemed to be the favorite before he dropped out of the race, pulling in millions from Oracle chairman Larry Ellison and other tech donors.

Before pledging to back Trump as a delegate at the Republican National Convention, Peter Thiel poured $2 million into Fiorina’s failed presidential bid. The investor isn’t shy about donating to his favored candidates. In 2011 and 2012, he gave a total of $2.6 million to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

Icahn, another vocal Trump supporter, has yet to financially back him. Nor has Ellison, a frequent financial backer of conservative causes, opened his wallet for Trump either. Instead, he dumped over $5 million into Rubio’s campaign.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich was poised to break the drought on Trump donations last week when he planned to host a fundraiser for the presumptive Republican nominee at his home. However, the fundraiser was cancelled after it garnered attention in the press. An Intel spokesperson told TechCrunch that Krzanich is not endorsing any candidate in the presidential race.

Like Sanders, it seems that most of Trump’s financial support in the tech industry is coming from rank-and-file workers. Trump managed to scrape together $30,556 from San Francisco and Silicon Valley donors, according to FEC data, the majority of whom work in real estate or are self-employed.

Tech leaders should continue to engage with conservative thought leaders and policy makers.
— Rory Cooper, senior adviser to #NeverTrump

TechCrunch counted a grand total of seven tech-industry Trump donors in Silicon Valley, including a software engineer in Palo Alto, an administrative assistant at Genentech, one VP of engineering at Yahoo and a tech manager at Uber. From these donors, Trump has been able to pull in $1,020 to his campaign, according to the FEC — peanuts compared to Sanders and Clinton.

Although investors have been cautious about jumping on the Trump train, at least two investors have funded an anti-Trump campaign.

Keith Rabois, a former PayPal executive and investor whose political donations tend to lean right, has put $50,000 into an anti-Trump PAC called Never Means Never. Rabois previously backed Rubio’s presidential campaign.

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar also contributed a total of $250,000 to Never Means Never. So far, Never Means Never has launched a #NeverTrump campaign, asking Republicans to pledge never to vote for Trump. The pledge has more than 40,000 signatures.

“Leaders across the spectrum, including in tech, are simply acknowledging that the uncertainty and chaos brought about by Trump is detrimental to our economic security and a pro-growth and entrepreneurial environment,” Rory Cooper, senior adviser to #NeverTrump, told TechCrunch.

Cooper added that the ideals powering Silicon Valley seem like a natural fit for conservative politics.


  • Tim Draper

    • Bio Timothy Draper is founding partner of leading venture capital firms Draper Associates and DFJ. Tim's original suggestion to use "viral marketing" in web-based e-mail to geometrically spread an Internet product to its market was instrumental to the successes of Hotmail and other web-based email providers and has been adopted as a standard marketing technique by hundreds of businesses. Tim launched …
    • Full profile for Tim Draper
  • Keith Rabois

    • Bio Keith Rabois is a Senior Investment Partner at Khosla Ventures since March 2013. Keith's focus at the firm includes consumer Internet, education, enterprise, financial services and digital health. Since joining Khosla Ventures, Keith has led investments in Stripe, Timeful, HealthTap and Piazza, among many others. Keith also started real estate startup, OpenDoor, which aims to transform the process …
    • Full profile for Keith Rabois
  • Chris Sacca

    • Bio An accomplished venture investor, private equity principal, company advisor, and entrepreneur, Chris manages a portfolio of over fifty consumer web, mobile, and wireless technology start- ups as well as an array of mature enterprises through his holding company, Lowercase Capital. While primarily known for its investments in seed and early stage technology companies, Lowercase has quietly become one …
    • Full profile for Chris Sacca

“I think Silicon Valley and the conservative movement share a distaste for bureaucracy and want to get things done to improve people’s lives, whether our frontrunner demonstrates that or not,” Cooper said. “Tech leaders should continue to engage with conservative thought leaders and policy makers, because many of us on the right want to take advantage of open platforms, digital ingenuity and decentralized thinking to make government more efficient and effective.”

But this is a crazy presidential election with a nominee in which many in the GOP aren’t confident. It took a reluctant Paul Ryan weeks to endorse Trump – a decision likely based solely on an effort to prevent another Democrat from taking the White House. But now the right in Silicon Valley — and throughout the nation — seem more willing than ever to lean a little left to ensure Donald J. Trump doesn’t end up running the free world.

We’ve reached out to the Sanders, Clinton and Trump campaigns to ask how they’ll work on bringing in donations from Silicon Valley workers and leadership in the future but have yet to hear back from all three. We’ll be sure to update you if we hear back.

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