July 22, 2004 12:54 PM PDT

Silicon Valley votes with its wallet

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Piercing a Silicon Valley stereotype

February 17, 2004
Walter Hewlett and Carly Fiorina have been known to take opposite sides on an issue, and the 2004 presidential race appears to be no exception.

Fiorina, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, donated $2,000 to the campaign of George W. Bush, while Hewlett, the son of company founder Bill Hewlett, donated the same amount to John Kerry's campaign. The $2,000 is the most that an individual can contribute to a particular candidate, but is a drop in the bucket compared with the millions Hewlett spent trying to thwart HP's acquisition of Compaq Computer--a contest he lost in a vote nearly as tight as the 2000 presidential race.

Other well-known tech names, from Michael Dell to John Doerr, have lined up on both sides of the 2004 presidential campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records for 2003 and the first five months of 2004. The race is set to move into high gear with next week's Democratic National Convention in Boston and the Republican convention a few weeks later.

Silicon Valley is no stranger to the attentions of the presidential candidates, given the prominence of the high-tech sector in the U.S. economy. Kerry swung through San Jose in June to promise investments in research and broadband, plus tax breaks for start-ups and other small businesses. Bush has been urging a deregulatory approach to getting Americans hooked up to fast Internet connections.

And in the other direction, the interest of high-tech executives in the candidates isn't limited to money. In May, a range of industry leaders stepped up to voice their support for Bush.

But money is a key part of the political equation. Dell, for example, gave $25,000 to the Republican National Committee and $2,000 to Bush. Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers also gave $2,000 to Bush and recently hosted a fundraiser for the president. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates also gave to Bush, as did Richard Parsons of Time Warner, eBay's Meg Whitman and Yahoo's Jerry Yang.

On the Democratic side of things, Gateway founder Ted Waitt gave $2,000 to Joe Lieberman and $1,913 to Kerry. Doerr, a legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist, gave $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee and $2,000 to Lieberman, while Symantec CEO John Thompson gave $2,000 to both Lieberman and Kerry.

Intel CEO Craig Barrett was one of the few who backed candidates in both parties, giving $2,000 each to Bush and Lieberman. Barrett's wife, Barbara, is active in Republican politics, having run for governor in Arizona and having been considered by Bush for the position of secretary of the Air Force. Yahoo CEO Terry Semel gave $50,000 ($25,000 in 2003 and $25,000 in 2004) to the Republican National Committee and $2,000 to Bush, but also donated $5,000 in November to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He also donated to Al Gore and Bill Bradley during the 2000 presidential race.

Of course individual contributions are just one way tech executives get political. Hosting a fundraiser can raise far more than the $2,000 that individuals can contribute to a candidate or even the $25,000 that one can contribute in a calendar year to a party's national committee. Many technology companies, such as Cisco, Intel, HP, Microsoft and Yahoo, have set up their own political action committees.

While the campaign contribution list includes a veritable who's who of technology, there are some big tech names not on the list. Microsoft may have been well-represented, but no donations were listed for Oracle CEO Larry Ellison or PeopleSoft chief Craig Conway. Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy is listed as having made contributions to past campaigns, but records show no donations to candidates in the current race--though he did contribute $5,000 to Sun's political action committee this year and last. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was not on the list, but his wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, gave $2,000 each to Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean.

Bipartisan CEOs?
While Silicon Valley execs still aren't as eager to open their wallets as groups such as trial lawyers or union activists, Northern California has become a regular stop on fundraising tours. Kerry raised $900,000 at one event last spring in San Francisco when he was just one of many Democrats vying for the nomination, and Bush raised $4 million at a fundraiser at the Los Altos Hills home of Cisco's Chambers.

Employees of technology firms tend to be far more bipartisan than their counterparts in other industries. Viacom, Walt Disney and Vivendi Universal employees, for instance, consistently write checks to Democrats over Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The oil and gas industry gave about 80 percent of its money to Republican candidates in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

By contrast, donations from employees and firms in the computer and Internet sector for every election cycle since 1990 added up to an all but even split: $53 million to Democrats and $55 million to Republicans. That figure includes money from political action committees, which can spend $5,000 on a candidate and $15,000 on a national party committee.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Intel stands out as one of the Republican Party's most loyal allies. Over the past four elections, its PAC handed out a total $133,992 to Democrats and $475,231 to Republicans.

An analysis prepared by Mother Jones magazine for the 2000 election found that 37 of the top 400 donors to either major party hailed from the technology industry. Steven Kirsch, founder of Infoseek, gave Democrat Party groups $652,000. David Bohnett, the millionaire founder of Geocities, handed Democrats $601,000.

On the Republican side: Cisco's Chambers is at more than $450,000; Thomas Siebel, chairman of Siebel Systems in San Mateo, Calif., is at $500,000; and America Online chairman emeritus James Kimsey gave $406,350 mostly to Republicans.

Most of those checks were "soft money" donations handed to party organizations like the National Republican Campaign Committee or the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But by curbing soft money donations and limiting individual donations to a few thousand dollars, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002--better known as the McCain-Feingold law--essentially made tech CEOs a less valuable source of funds.

Still, technology leaders continue to put their money where their politics are. For many, the donations are part of longtime commitments to party politics, while others said they feel the times warranted a move. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who donated to both Dean and Kerry, said he had become disheartened by the direction in which he sees the country headed.

"I have been nonpolitical for 30 years, but I am disturbed these days," Wozniak said in an e-mail interview. "I would give my life to prevent another Vietnam War from affecting our youth, but here it happened again. My values are better represented by the Democrats today."

CNET News.com's Jim Hu, Rob Lemos and Richard Shim contributed to this report.

 

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