Policy

Tech’s political giving is trying to bring us more tech

Amid the usual checks for close Senate races, tech is giving to spread crypto, help out VC, and bring more tech talent to politics.

Crypto Currency at the Capitol - stock photo

Tech elites seem eager to bring their own particular brand of expertise — and perhaps the sense that Silicon Valley can fix broken things — to the political process itself.

Photo: JTSorrell/iStock/Getty Images Plus

GMI PAC has been one of the biggest recipients of Silicon Valley's largesse in the leadup to the midterm election. The crypto-allied, independent group focused on races that attracted little national interest, and was almost studiously bipartisan.

In other words, GMI doesn't really look like the stereotype of Big Tech's big giving to progressives in hot-button contests — a caricature that certainly has a big grain of truth.

“Our mission is to keep this a bipartisan issue,” said Michael Carcaise, a strategist for GMI. “That appeals, fortunately.”

GMI, known for the patronage of Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital and FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, seems to represent another side of Silicon Valley’s $291 million in political giving — one that, essentially, is trying to bring more Silicon Valley to the world, whether it’s GMI’s efforts to herald the arrival of the crypto industry as a political force or a PAC that helps Democratic campaigns hire top tech talent.

To get a sense of how the power players of Silicon Valley — the actual geographic region — have been channeling their political giving this cycle, Protocol worked with the Center for Responsive Politics. The nonprofit government transparency group, known for its OpenSecrets.org website, pulled government data on more than 27,000 donations greater than $2,000. The donors listed themselves as coming from ZIP codes on both sides of the Bay associated with Silicon Valley, in six counties from San Jose up to San Francisco and Marin, then back down through Berkeley and Fremont.



The tally, which includes donations made through the end of September, gives insight into what the area’s wealthy — who largely made their money in tech — actually want. There were donations, for instance, from tech and cultural luminaries such as Sheryl Sandberg, Tom Steyer, Peter Thiel, and Larry Ellison. As the data shows, this small but influential group is important because PACs can raise millions from just a dozen wealthy Bay Area donors.

The results of all that giving were in some ways typical: Many donations, and some of the biggest, went to the Democratic National Committee, liberal PACs, and Democrats in high-profile races, such as Sen. Raphael Warnock, whose reelection bid in Georgia is one of a handful of races that could determine the balance of power in the Senate. Millions of dollars also went to multiple GOP groups, such as the RNC, and to candidates such as Peter Thiel acolyte Blake Masters, who’s seeking an Arizona Senate seat. California politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy, pulled in big totals too.

But then there were groups that focused less on the brawl for gavels in Washington and more on specific issues but that still managed to raise tons of cash from Silicon Valley. GMI pulled in nearly $6 million just from the Bay Area, making it a top-10 recipient, beating out Steyer’s climate group.

GMI’s haul doesn’t represent much grassroots interest, though: Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz each gave $1 million, Bankman-Fried gave $2 million, and his crypto exchange additionally coughed up more than $350,000. (There are no caps on contributions to super PACs such as GMI.) Nonetheless, despite the notion that crypto was emerging as a multifaceted political force, Silicon Valley coalesced relatively quickly on GMI. Its fundraising made it by far the most successful crypto-allied PAC in the region.

Carcaise said GMI tries to support candidates who are knowledgeable about the crypto industry to fill open seats in strongly red or blue states or House districts. “The main mission is: elect people who can tackle this really challenging project of regulating new technology,” Carcaise told Protocol. “It’s the intersection of tech and finance. That throws up a whole bunch of new questions.”

Through its network, GMI supported both Democrats and Republicans in their primary races, although some of the candidates — such as Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who’s poised to become one of Oklahoma’s senators — have reputations as stalwart partisans themselves rather than compromisers who work across the aisle. It also supported incumbents Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Patrick McHenry, both of whom serve as top GOP members of congressional committees overseeing the industry.

GMI ultimately spent about $12 million, Carcaise said, adding that “the vast majority” of the PAC’s work had occurred in the primary season and thus was “completed.” Days later, however, a CNBC report said GMI would fund ads through Election Day.

Beyond ’22

Many industries have long given to both sides of the aisle as a way to give a boost to their policy priorities. Tech has embraced the strategy: The National Venture Capital Association’s PAC, for instance, brought in more than $350,000 with 83 donations from a “who’s who” of VC’s such as Kirsten Green of Forerunner, plus Brook Byers and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins. Doug Leone, Bill Coughran, and Roelof Botha, all of Sequoia, gave too — but donations to corporate PACs are capped, so their donation totals aren’t as eye-popping compared to super PAC giving. PACs for Intel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Deloitte collected more than $100,000 each from larger Silicon Valley donors as well.

Donors in the area were — on the surface — also apparently eager to support specific causes. The Opportunity Matters Fund raised more from Silicon Valley’s power players than any group besides the DNC. But essentially all of its more than $20 million came from Oracle chairman Ellison, a Trump ally. The group nominally supports a policy agenda from Republican Sen. Tim Scott, including tax breaks designed to spur investment in “distressed communities” known as opportunity zones, but the fund also seems poised to support Scott if he launches a presidential bid.

Steyer’s main environmental group, NextGen Climate Action, also received more than $4.5 million from donors in the area — mostly from Steyer himself, and other environmental causes like the Sierra Club’s PAC had good hauls. The Lincoln Project and the Republican Accountability PAC — two efforts by current and former Republicans to fight Trumpism — brought in more than $4.5 million between them from nearly 135 of the bigger donors in the six counties. Donors were also eager to give to pro-choice initiatives including Planned Parenthood, to groups including Emily’s List that support women in politics, and to the AAPI Victory Fund, which tries to mobilize Asian American and Pacific Islanders to vote.

In addition, tech elites seem eager to bring their own particular brand of expertise — and perhaps the sense that Silicon Valley can fix broken things — to the political process itself.

DigiDems was a particularly popular target for donations, bringing in more than $1 million from 138 contributions. Most of the donations were repeats by Reid Hoffman and his wife, Michelle Yee, but the group also attracted money from angel investor Ron Conway and from Chris Saccheri, LinkedIn’s original web developer.

DigiDems’ goal is to raise money to pay the salaries of advanced tech staffers working on Democratic races.

“Tech talent’s expensive,” said Kane Miller, the group’s executive director. “These are folks with skills who command higher salaries in the private sector than what we are accustomed to paying in political campaigns.”

Miller said the idea certainly does resonate in Silicon Valley, but insisted that “a wide variety of donors” like the idea of helping to build long-term digital and personnel capacity of Democratic campaigns for 2022 and beyond. Still, about half the group’s nationwide haul for the cycle came from the region.

“People do respond to the fact that this isn’t just a one-off opportunity to make an impact,” Miller said. “This is a chance to infuse new talent in the ecosystem and that’s going to pay dividends in the long run.”

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins