The presidential primaries are six months away and tech companies aren’t wasting any time putting money up for the candidates they want to go the distance.
Presidential hopefuls former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and former Republican Florida governor Jeb Bush have already begun courting Silicon Valley, making campaign fundraiser trips to the Golden Coast this summer — a strong acknowledgement of tech companies’ increasing political clout.
But despite a bevy of candidates, tech companies have begun pouring millions into Republican campaigns, which could be a key in determining who will make it to the Iowa caucus in February.
According to political research firm Crowdpac, that lucky candidate could be Rubio, who has received over $3 million in donations in campaign and super PAC contributions from the tech industry. Bush is a very, very distant second, raking in $525,000 and followed by Clinton, the only Democratic in the top five tech contribution receivers, who only collected less than half of Bush’s take — $247,000 as of June 30. Self-proclaimed socialist contender Bernie Sanders received just over half of Clinton’s pot at $134,000.
Rubio’s lead is almost solely attributed to support from Larry Ellison, multibillionaire and founder of database software firm Oracle, who donated $3 million to Rubio’s Conservative Solutions super PAC, Recode reported. (Oracle was also at the center of the bungled Oregon health exchange and federal fraud and racketeering lawsuit after it didn’t sign up any users for Obamacare through the site.)
Oracle’s CEO Safra Catz also backed Rubio with a $2,700 contribution that was matched or nearly matched by three other Silicon Valley executives — Cisco chairman John Chambers, Seagate SEO Steve Luzco and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who gave the senator the $2,600 maximum individual campaign contribution in 2013.
Rubio’s politics are fairly contradictory to Silicon Valley’s values. He was against net neutrality, which most tech companies’ loudly supported. Rubio has also championed government surveillance policies, voting to extend the National Security Agency’s metadata program under the Patriot Act. To tech’s dismay, he also voted in favor of the speech-threatening Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act (SOPA and PIPA) in 2012.
Moreover, Rubio flipped his position on immigration, withdrawing support for a clear path to citizenship — which runs against many tech workers’ desire for more favorable policies. Rubio, however, does support H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, upon which tech companies frequently rely.
Clinton, who leads tech’s Democratic support, doesn’t have a generous benefactor but boasts an extensive list of high-profile backers, including Tesla founder Elon Musk and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston. Clinton also has solid backing from leading female tech execs namely Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Eventbrite president Julia Hartz, Mozilla chair Mitchell Baker, and Adreessen Horowitz partner Margit Wennmachers.
Lincoln Labs cofounder Garrett Johnson told the Atlantic in April that Silicon Valley was “a liberal echo chamber” where “people have been convinced that Silicon Valley is reflexively liberal or progressive. And so their response is to conform.”
Political and policy strategist Rich Tafel resonated that sentiment, telling the Atlantic that Silicon Valley conservatives have to remain “in the closet” and keep their views private.
Facebook, for example, has been known to support candidates whose values are out of sync with the company’s expressed values. Shareholders chastised the social network for making PAC contributions to politicians who supported the controversial and SOPA/PIPA, voted against LGBT rights, and pushed for greenhouse gas emission deregulation.
Aside from personal views, tech leaders have another reason to finance Republican candidates: taxes. Despite supporting many progressive policies, tech companies are notorious tax dodgers. That is companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook frequently set up shop in regions that allow the biggest tax breaks or where taxes are barely enforced. For instance, Rubio voted against the internet sales tax bill, which Amazon originally fought but later embraced.
In 2014, the European Commission investigated Apple’s tax practices in Ireland, its European home, and accused the Irish government of giving the company special tax treatment. The company is facing a multibillion euro payout for back taxes.
The commission has since laid out plans to reform Europe’s tax structure to ensure companies pay taxes based on their earnings, but delayed the final decision on Apple’s case — a decision that, while only applicable overseas, could fuel Rubio and other GOP candidates to advocate for tech companies even harder to secure funding and possibly the nomination.