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.”


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