Silicon Valley tech employees are pouring money into Beto O'Rourke's campaign to unseat Ted Cruz

Key Points
  • Employees from Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Amazon have poured money into the campaign of Beto O'Rourke, who's running to unseat Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race.
  • Six of O'Rourke's top 14 contribution sources are tech companies.
  • O'Rourke has raised more money than any Senate candidate in history, but he's still polling behind Cruz.
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) greets a supporter before a town hall meeting at the Quail Point Lodge on August 16, 2018 in Horseshoe Bay, Texas. 
Chris Covatta | Getty Images 

With less than two weeks to go until the midterm elections, employees from tech companies are pouring money into the most contentious races across the country, focusing heavily on one long-shot Democratic Senate candidate in Texas: Beto O'Rourke.

Alphabet accounts for the second-highest level of contributions to O'Rourke's campaign, behind only University of Texas affiliates, according to the latest data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Dell are also among the candidate's top 14 contributors, when totaling money from individual employees. Representatives of those companies have donated more than $425,000.

O'Rourke, a congressman who's running to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, is the top recipient of employee donations from Alphabet, Apple, Dell and IBM, and a close second for Facebook, Cisco, Amazon and Microsoft. In total, the 46-year-old Democrat's campaign reeled in $38 million in the third quarter, compared with $12 million for Cruz.

While the tech industry has long bent to the left on the political spectrum, it's veered further in that direction in the two years since the election of President Donald Trump, whose positions on immigration, trade and civil rights are staunchly opposed across Silicon Valley. In an effort to put a check on the Trump presidency, tech workers are funding competitive contests that could potentially flip the House of Representatives in favor of the Democrats and take out at-risk Republicans in the Senate.

When it comes to the Senate, left-leaning techies are motivated to spend money outside of their home states, as California and Washington are both solidly blue.

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Start-up investor Chris Sacca, an early backer of Twitter and Uber and an ex-Google employee, said that O'Rourke's message of inclusion has resonated with people looking for an antidote to Trumpism. Some of O'Rourke's key proposals involve protecting people with disabilities, increasing public funding for low-income schools and ending the sale of military-style weapons in the U.S.

O'Rourke reportedly appeared at a fundraising event in Silicon Valley last October hosted by venture capitalist Irwin Federman, investor Lara Druyan and Tesla co-founder Marc Tarpenning. Meanwhile, Cruz has been a vociferous critic of what he views as the tech industry's purported bias against conservatives.

"Beto is emblematic of a bigger movement and has done the best job of formulating a cohesive message about what Democrats stand for," said Sacca, who donated $2,500 to O'Rourke and, along with his wife, Crystal, has raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates and organizations as well as political start-up groups. "He is uniquely inspiring."

No more 'lyin' Ted'

Sacca is joined in his support by some big names in the industry. Jeff Dean, head of Google's artificial intelligence division, and David Fischer, a Facebook ad executive, both recently contributed the maximum $2,700 to O'Rourke, according to the CRP. Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer until August, and Peter Vosshall, a vice president and distinguished engineer at Amazon, are also donors.

Still, the Texas Senate seat presents a tougher challenge to Democrats than many of the Republican-held House seats that are considered toss-ups or are even leaning left. Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Clinton, and Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1993.

Despite the bitter rivalry between Trump and Cruz during the 2016 Republican primary, the president visited Houston for a rally on Monday night. He has shed the "lyin' Ted" nickname in favor of "beautiful Ted," and has referred to O'Rourke as a "total lightweight" in a tweet and "totally overrated" in front of the White House on Monday. O'Rourke did not respond to Trump's criticism.


Every polled tracked by RealClearPolitics has Cruz leading by at least 5 percentage points ahead of the election on Nov. 6. The tighter-than-expected race has kicked off a fundraising frenzy with both candidates raising tens of millions of dollars from out-of-state donors.

Cruz, however, may see it as a "badge of honor" that he's not very popular in Silicon Valley, said Tim Miller, former communications director for Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign who now consults for tech companies in the Bay Area.

At a campaign event in Texas in early September, Cruz accused liberals of wanting Texas "to be just like California, right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during the NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on May 4, 2018 in Dallas, Texas.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Miller said that O'Rourke's message is well-suited to the coastal millennials populating tech companies. He's active on social media and his campaign spent more than $5 million on Facebook ads between May and Oct. 20, the most of any U.S. advertiser.

"I think that both sides will see this as a win for them," Miller said, referring to O'Rourke's tech contributions.

Neither campaign responded to requests for comment.

Cruz has gotten plenty of support from other industries. Employees at financial institutions, like Berkshire Hathaway, Goldman Sachs and Woodforest Financial Group are some of his top contributors. He's also received funding from workers at industrial companies like Lockheed Martin and energy companies such as PBF Energy and Quantum Energy Partners.

O'Rourke isn't the only Democrat in a tight race to receive backing from tech employees. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is in a heated bid to keep her seat against Republican Josh Hawley, has been the top recipient for Facebook money and is third among Google employees. And Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has been a popular target for tech funds as she tries to stave off Republican challenger Kevin Cramer.

As of mid-September, roughly 40 percent of the more than half a billion dollars in direct contributions raised by Senate candidates had flowed into just 10 competitive races, including Texas, according to a CNBC analysis of Center for Responsive Politics Data.

But O'Rourke's campaign is unique in the tech industry and beyond. He's raised more money in three months than any previous Senate candidate in history.

"In this era of low-dollar fundraising, money is going to be directed to the candidates that can garner excitement among their relative bases," Miller said. "That's true of both sides."

— CNBC's Ari Levy contributed to this report.

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