Maybe it's because the industry is maturing; maybe it's because the executives themselves are maturing; but make no mistake: Silicon Valley is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to the presidential campaign.
And the action in this election is the strongest I've seen since Silicon Valley leaders shoved competitive differences aside and threw their support behind [gasp] then-Democratic candidate Bill Clinton in 1992.
I was at that press conference led by Apple's then-CEO John Scully. A group of Silicon Valley heavyweights endorsing the candidate and laying the groundwork for a new era in tech industry political activism.
And the investment of time, capital, and these companies' good names paid off handsomely: After only four weeks in office, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore chose the Valley as their first out-of-Washington trip after being elected, flying here to a splashy event at Silicon Graphics--then a powerhouse of a Silicon Valley success story--to unveil a major new technology industry initiative.
Both came back often during their eight years in office; and Gore today makes this area almost a second home, serving on Apple's board of directors and as a special advisor to Google ; not to mention his partner role at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
"Certainly Bill Clinton and Al Gore made sure during their campaign back in 1992 that Silicon Valley was viewed as more than just a cash machine," says Silicon Valley Leadership Council Chief Executive Carl Guardino. "Candidates since that time have come here to learn about Silicon Valley and to discuss the issues of its importance."
So flash forward to the campaign today: It's impressive and it makes sense. Washington is taking a far more active role in business around here with big-buzz issues like stock options backdating; net neutrality; research and development tax credits; capital gains tax cuts; off-shoring/outsourcing and H1B visas; global trade; the FCC's more active role in all things wireless and digital entertainment and copyright laws; the FTC and Justice Department getting involved in almost every partnership that grabs headlines out of this area.
A friend in the Oval Office could come in handy.
Google's Eric Schmidt and Marissa Mayer, and Symantec CEO John Thompson, have thrown their support behind Barack Obama; according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has raised $1,327,738 from people in the computer industry, including $37,650 from 58 employees at Microsoft and $85,000 from Google workers. (See update below on statement from Google.)
Yahoo employees also are big Obama supporters.
But Hillary Clinton is no slouch: $1,283,076 from techies; Google employees writing her checks for $61,400. Election records show 137 Microsoft workers donated nearly $136,000 to Clinton.
"The country needs somebody's who like a real leader, and that's Barack," Craig Newmark, the founder of craigslist.com, tells us.
EBay CEO Meg Whitman supports Mitt Romney, who's raised $651,627 from tech donors, thanks to their days together as consultants with Bain; Cisco Systems' CEO John Chambers is in the John McCain camp (he's only raised $294,347 from techies); venture capitalist John Doerr has endorsed Hillary Clinton.
And these endorsements are important: Silicon Valley carries with it a cutting edge cache along with deep pockets of cash. New technology, a vision of the future, keen players in the global economy, a sense of excitement, youth, creativity, ambition, job creation. What candidate wouldn't want to be associated with all that?
"For way too long, Silicon Valley was viewed as an ATM machine, a bank where candidates would come and make a withdrawal but would make very little deposits of time or interests in the issues that impacted Silicon Valley," Guardino says. "We have found a lot more interest in the major candidates in the issues that are going to spur the success in the Silicon Valley."
And Valley leaders have also realized that the relationship can go both ways: rather than merely writing a check, like everything else they do, from executives to rank and file, they're all looking for the big pay-off on their investment.
UPDATE: Despite numerous internet stories and blog reports saying otherwise, Google this morning tells me that Eric Schmidt is not endorsing Barack Obama, not backing him, nor has he donated any money to the candidate. Not sure where the confusion lies, or how so much coverage of the this particular relationship got it wrong, but apparently it did. A spokesman for the company contacted me this morning and asked me to correct the statement. So I am. Still, Reuters reports another Googler, Marissa Mayer, the company's top female executive, has given money to Mr. Obama. Sorry for the confusion.
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