Politics

You may not know these tech Democrats. Now you need to.

These are the people who will be at the frontlines of the tech industry's efforts to influence an entirely new Washington.

Airbnb's Chris Lehane, Amazon's Jay Carney, Apple's Lisa Jackson and Uber's Tony West

Airbnb's Chris Lehane, Amazon's Jay Carney, Apple's Lisa Jackson and Uber's Tony West are tech Democrats you need to know now that Joe Biden is president-elect.

Image: Pupkin8r /Protocol

Now that Joe Biden has been elected to the presidency, it's time to update your contacts.

We're entering a new phase in Washington, and that means there are new power players who merit attention. Over the coming months, tech Democrats with ties to Bidenworld will help shape the future of the industry, one friendly phone call at a time.

There's a list of obvious Democrats to watch during a Biden administration. It will be fascinating to see how Eric Schmidt, Reid Hoffman, Dustin Moskowitz and Sheryl Sandberg spend the next four years. But there's a different cast of characters to pay attention to in a Biden administration: the lesser-known Washington Democrats working in tech who have ties to his campaign and inner circle.

We've assembled a list of the Democrats in tech that you need to know over the next four years, according to tech lobbyists, tech executives and Democratic Hill aides that spoke to Protocol. Some of them could be considered for jobs in the administration; others will have an outsized voice on tech issues thanks to their links to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Either way, they will be at the frontlines of the tech industry's efforts to influence and adjust to the new administration.

You might not have heard them all yet, but it's time to change that.

Jay Carney, Amazon, SVP of global corporate affairs

D.C. insiders have been chattering about the future of Amazon executive Jay Carney, the former Obama White House spokesman who served as Biden's press secretary from 2009 to 2011 and acted as a bundler for his campaign. One source close to Carney said they hadn't received any indication that he's interested in leaving his prime position at Amazon to join a Biden administration; a tech executive said, "I don't see Jay having any intention of leaving Amazon." But his close ties to the president-elect and his orbit could benefit Amazon as the company faces intensifying scrutiny of its labor practices and antitrust issues in a Democratic Washington.

Tony Russo, T-Mobile, VP of federal government relations

Biden is literally the godfather of Tony Russo's daughter. The two men have shared a close bond for decades, since Russo served as Biden's legislative counsel in the mid-1990s.

Today, Russo heads legislative affairs at T-Mobile and has access to Biden's ear on tech and telecom issues. "Tony is in that small universe of people who not only know the vice president but also understand his history, and his thought processes, and how he looks at these issues," said one longtime Biden advisor.

The president-elect has a much longer history dealing with telecom issues than the Silicon Valley giants. And Russo will play a role as the administration grapples with the best approach to the future of 5G and closing the so-called "digital divide."

"I'm very happy where T-Mobile is situated for some of the goals of this administration," Russo told Protocol. "We have a lot of similar interests. The devil's in the details always, but I would say that we're very optimistic."

Chris Lehane, Airbnb, head of global policy and communications

Chris Lehane is best known in tech circles as the fiery Airbnb executive with a direct line to CEO Brian Chesky and a penchant for picking (and winning) fights. But in Washington, he's widely known as the prominent Democratic strategist who helped defend the Clintons through a string of scandals and served as the spokesman for former Vice President Al Gore. Those positions have left him with friends and respect among the Democratic players who will fill a Biden administration.

An operative with equally bold reputations in Washington and Silicon Valley, Lehane will certainly use his political savvy to make Airbnb's case over the next four years.

Lehane told Protocol that he believes the tech industry should be focusing energy and attention on how to help fight COVID-19. "Tech should not be asking the Biden administration what it can do for tech, but what tech could do for the country," Lehane said.

Airbnb is well-positioned to work with a Biden administration, considering many senior staff have ties back to Obamaworld and Democratic politics. Nick Papas, Airbnb's director of global corporate and policy communications, formerly worked in the Obama White House and administration. And two Airbnb employees, Courtney O'Donnell and Kim Rubey, are currently on leaves of absence to work for the Biden campaign.

Tony West, Uber, chief legal officer

The next four years could be particularly rough for Uber as a Biden administration takes on gig economy companies regarding how they treat their workers. Both Biden and Harris have pledged to side with drivers in their ongoing labor disputes with Uber and Lyft — which leaves Harris at odds with her brother-in-law Tony West.

West, one of Harris' top political advisors since 2003, was the public face of Uber's fight against Proposition 22 in California. A Harris spokesperson told the LA Times that West has never lobbied Harris or anyone on her campaign on behalf of Uber, but it's hard to imagine that the connection will be irrelevant during a Biden-Harris administration. Gig economy issues will likely be a focus of the new Labor Department under Biden.

West was a bundler for Biden, and Protocol has learned of some speculation within Uber that he could leave his job for a Biden administration position.

Jason Mahler, Oracle, VP of government affairs

Over the last four years, Oracle has solidified its reputation as a Trump-friendly tech company: Its CEO, president and top lobbyist all maintained ties to Trumpworld. Democrats recently criticized the company over its handling of a possible deal with TikTok, accusing Oracle of capitalizing on its ties to the president.

Now, the company and its lobbying shop will have to pivot if it hopes to save face with the new Biden administration, lobbyists and Hill aides told Protocol.

"They're going to have a lot of work to do here," said one tech lobbyist. "It's the flip of a coin. The more you leaned into Trump, the more cleanup you've got to do."

At least for now, some of that work will fall on Jason Mahler, the company's top Democratic lobbyist and a well-respected veteran of tech policy circles.

Mahler, who formerly served as a legislative assistant to California Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, has lobbied for Oracle since 2010 and mostly maintains a low profile. But several sources said Oracle would be smart to put him out front more often in the coming months — and to hire some new Democrats, too.

Allen Thompson, Intel, VP of US government relations

Allen Thompson came on as the head of Intel's lobbying shop only four months ago, and his hire was likely a good bet for the company as the Democrats come into power. Thompson worked for Democrats on the House Committee on Homeland Security and was a principal at the prominent lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas. He spent the past six years at Raytheon Technologies and maintains relationships within the Biden camp.

The next administration's decisions on U.S.-China relations will be consequential for Intel, and Thompson will be a friendly face for establishment Democrats as he leads the company's lobbying efforts in D.C.

"The big thing we're looking to work with a Biden administration [on] is continuing the Congress' work to incentivize U.S. semiconductor manufacturing to maintain America's technological leadership," Thompson told Protocol.

Lisa Jackson, Apple, VP of environment, policy and social initiatives

Apple arguably has the quietest and most fastidiously nonpartisan lobbying shop of the four Big Tech companies. It's also known to stay out of the fray when it comes to some of the most divisive issues in tech, remaining narrowly focused on specific policy areas like tariffs and trade. But sources close to the company said one of Apple's biggest assets in a Biden administration will be Lisa Jackson, an Apple policy executive and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama. Jackson and Biden worked together on energy issues and maintain a positive relationship now — not to mention that Cynthia Hogan, who worked under Jackson at Apple, is now a prominent staffer on Biden's transition team.

Tom Manatos, Spotify, VP of government relations

Tom Manatos spent the first 12 years of his career as a big Democrat-about-town: nine years in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, a year and a half as a senior adviser to the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and two months as a deputy director on Obama's presidential inaugural committee in 2012. He's since veered into the world of tech lobbying, first at the Internet Association and now as Spotify's head of government relations, but he maintains deep ties within Democratic circles and the Biden campaign. Last year, he spoke at an event held by the University of Delaware's Biden Institute.

Since 2016, Manatos has led Spotify's efforts on antitrust in the U.S., and his voice will remain pivotal as the Department of Justice and state attorneys general continue to pursue antitrust investigations into the tech giants.

Amanda Anderson, Square's head of policy and government relations for the Americas

There aren't many tech lobbying shops headed by Democrats in Washington, but Amanda Anderson is one of the best-known and connected Democrats leading a government affairs team outside of the Big Tech companies. Anderson spent five years at Uber before becoming Square's head of policy and government relations last September.

Before that, Anderson spent seven years working in the Obama White House, first as a special assistant to the chief of staff and then in the legislative affairs office. She's seen as a fresh, energetic voice on tech issues and will likely know many of the Democrats flooding into the White House.

Rebecca Prozan, Google, senior manager for government affairs and public policy

Rebeca Prozan is one of the main D.C. tech players who maintains a close relationship with Harris. Prozan was Harris' campaign manager the first time she ran for San Francisco District Attorney and currently boasts "Alum for VP Elect @KamalaHarris" in her Twitter bio. Harris is expected to play an important role in shaping tech policy during the Biden administration, considering her familiarity with the issues and close ties to Silicon Valley, and Prozan will be at the forefront as Google continues to navigate a new maze of thorny issues including antitrust and Section 230.

Other prominent Democrats at Google include Johanna Shelton, Google's director of public policy and former counsel for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Alexandra Veitch, a former Obama White House staffer and YouTube's public policy lead in the Americas and emerging markets.

TBD, Facebook

Several lobbyists and executives said it's hard to name a top Democrat focused on policy and government relations at Facebook, a gap that the company will surely need to fill in order to save face as it deals with escalating scrutiny during a Biden administration.

Of course, Sandberg is a reliable Democrat at the top of the company who was once considered for Hillary Clinton's Treasury Secretary (though she stayed away from contributing directly to Biden's campaign this year). And Facebook executive Nick Clegg was formerly the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the U.K. But Facebook's D.C. office is dominated by Republicans, including Joel Kaplan, Kevin Martin and Greg Maurer.

Some sources named Brian Rice, a former legislative assistant to John Kerry and Verizon lobbyist, as one of the best-known Democrats in Facebook's policy shop. But the company's government relations team is going to have to work aggressively to shake off its Trump-friendly reputation. "I would not be surprised if you see some changes there," said one tech executive.
Entertainment

Google is developing a low-end Chromecast with Google TV

The new dongle will run the Google TV interface, but it won’t support 4K streaming.

The Chromecast with Google TV dongle combined 4K streaming with the company’s Google TV interface. Now, Google is looking to launch a cheaper version.

Photo: Google

Google is working on a new streaming device that caters to people with older TV sets: The next Chromecast streaming dongle will run its Google TV interface and ship with a remote control, but it won’t support 4K streaming. The device will instead max out at a resolution of 1080p, Protocol has learned from a source with close knowledge of the company’s plans.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

Keep Reading Show less
Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.
Enterprise

Why software releases should be quick but 'palatable and realistic'

Modern software developers release updates much more quickly than in the past, which is great for security and adding new capabilities. But Edith Harbaugh thinks business leaders need a little control of that schedule.

LaunchDarkly was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle.

Photo: LaunchDarkly

Gone are the days of quarterly or monthly software update release cycles; today’s software development organizations release updates and fixes on a much more frequent basis. Edith Harbaugh just wants to give business leaders a modicum of control over the process.

The CEO of LaunchDarkly, which was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle, is trying to reach customers who want to move fast but understand that moving fast and breaking things won’t work for them. Companies that specialize in continuous integration and continuous delivery services have thrived over the last few years as customers look for help shipping at speed, and LaunchDarkly extends those capabilities to smaller features of existing software.

Keep Reading Show less
Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Workplace

Building an antiracist company: From idea to practice

Twilio’s chief diversity officer says it’s time for a new approach to DEI.

“The most impactful way to prioritize DEI and enable antiracism is to structure your company accordingly,” says Lybra Clemons, chief diversity officer at Twilio.

Photo: Twilio

Lybra Clemons is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives at Twilio.

I’ve been in the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion space for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen the field evolve slowly from a “nice-to-have” function of Human Resources to a rising company-wide priority. June 2020 was different. Suddenly my and my peers’ phones started ringing off the hook and DEI leaders became the most sought-after professionals. With so many DEI roles being created and corporate willingness to invest, for a split second it looked like there might be real change on the horizon.

Keep Reading Show less
Lybra Clemons
Lybra S. Clemons is a seasoned C-suite executive with over 15 years of Human Resources, Talent and Diversity & Inclusion experience at Fortune 500 companies. She is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives across Twilio's global workforce. Prior to Twilio, Lybra was global head of Diversity & Inclusion at PayPal, where she managed and oversaw all global diversity initiatives. Lybra has held critical roles in Diversity & Inclusion with Morgan Stanley, The Brunswick Group and American Express. She serves on the board of directors of Makers and How Women Lead Silicon Valley Executive Board of Advisers, and has been recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the Top Corporate Women in Diversity.
China

Why China is outselling the US in EVs 5 to 1

Electric cars made up 14.8% of Chinese car sales in 2021, compared with 4.1% in the U.S.

Passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% to nearly 3.3 million from a year ago.

Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

When Tesla entered China in 2014, the country’s EV market was going through a reset. The Austin, Texas-based automaker created a catfish effect — a strong competitor that compels weaker peers to up their game — in China’s EV market for the past few years. Now, Tesla’s sardine-sized Chinese competitors have grown into big fishes in the tank, gradually weakening Tesla’s own prominence in the field.

2021 was a banner year for China’s EV industry. The latest data from the China Passenger Car Association shows that total passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% from a year ago to nearly 2.99 million: about half of all EVs sold globally. Out of every 100 passenger cars sold in China last year, almost 15 were so-called "new energy vehicles" (NEVs) — a mix of battery-electric vehicles and hybrids.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu covers China's tech industry.

Latest Stories
Bulletins