Silicon Valley execs are making early bets on the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — here's who they're backing

Key Points
  • LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman has donated money to four Democratic primary candidates, while Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has provided money to three.
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Indiana, has raised money from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann, among other tech execs.
  • Meg Whitman, a lifelong Republican until the 2016 campaign, donated to Colorado's John Hickenlooper.
Democratic presidential hopefuls (fromL) US Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker, US Senator from California Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden applaud ahead of the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

It's still more than five months until the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus and the heat of the Democratic primary season. Many technology executives remain on the sidelines, waiting for the field to narrow a bit before deciding who to support — if anyone at all.

But a few big names have already written checks.

The decision of who to get behind is more important than ever as regulators and lawmakers turn up the pressure on the tech industry through antitrust investigations and probes on the use and abuse of consumer data. Broader issues like immigration, climate change and trade have pitted the Trump administration against Silicon Valley.

Notably missing among recipients of tech exec money are Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are generally viewed as the furthest left of the candidates and who have taken the most aggressive stances on corporate taxes and pursuing the potential breakup of Big Tech.

The maximum donation an individual can give to a candidate is $5,600, or $2,800 for the primary and the same amount for general election. Here's what we know so far, based on data from Federal Election Commission and Center for Responsive Politics:

Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Alphabet
Photo by Bloomberg

Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO and ex-chairman, who recently left Alphabet's board after 18 years, has contributed $5,600 to Cory Booker, the senator from New Jersey.

Schmidt has long had ties to Booker, who attended Stanford University -- the alma mater of Google's co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and a number of other high-profile Google execs. They invested together earlier this decade in a video curation start-up called Waywire. They were also pictured together at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Schmidt donated another $2,600 to Joe Biden, the former vice president, who is currently the front-runner in the polls. In addition to his earlier support for President Barack Obama, Schmidt has business connections to Biden. The Democrat's presidential campaign has received advice from Civis Analytics, a data science software and consulting firm backed by Schmidt.

Reed Hastings

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings speaks during an interview on day two of the Netflix See What's Next: Asia event at the Marina Bay Sands on November 9, 2018 in Singapore.
Ore Huiying | Getty Images

Reed Hastings, the CEO and co-founder of Netflix, wrote a $5,600 check to Pete Buttigieg in April.

Buttigieg, the 37-year-old openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has been the big surprise at the upper end of the Democratic primary, vaulting from a virtual unknown on the national stage to capturing 7% support in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Buttigieg attended a fundraiser last month hosted by Hastings and others in Menlo Park, California, according to an invite seen by The Hollywood Reporter.

Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff, Co-CEO of SalesForce speaking at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 22, 2019.
Adam Galica | CNBC

Marc Benioff, the Salesforce co-CEO and co-founder, has probably been the most outspoken among major tech CEOs on political issues, whether it's vocalizing opposition to an anti-gay law in Indiana or trying to get funding for homeless programs in San Francisco. He's put money towards three presidential campaigns this year.

Benioff donated $2,700 to Booker and Kamala Harris, senator from California, in February. Benioff was one of many Silicon Valley executives who contributed to Booker's 2013 campaign for Senate. He also donated to Harris in early 2015, shortly after she announced her Senate bid.

The other recipient of Benioff's money in this cycle was Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington. In April, Benioff wrote a $5,600 check to Inslee, who has made climate change the centerpiece of his campaign. Benioff spoke at the Global Climate Action Summit last year in San Francisco, and announced his company's goal of reaching 100% renewable energy use by 2022.

Lynne Benioff, Marc's wife, has donated to the same three candidates.

Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder and partner at venture firm Greylock, has been even more active than Benioff in the early days of the campaign, contributing $2,800 to Booker; Harris; Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York; and Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota.

Hoffman hosted a fundraising event for Booker in May, his first event for a candidate this cycle, Recode reported. Hoffman was a vocal Donald Trump critic leading up to the 2016 election, committing to donate up to $5 million to veterans if the Republican candidate released his tax returns, which he never did. After Trump was elected, Hoffman helped create a humorous card game called "Trumped Up Cards," which the site calls "a party game for people with big hands."

More recently Hoffman has gotten himself in some hot political water. In December, he apologized for funding a group that allegedly had a hand in spreading misinformation during the 2017 Alabama Senate race.

Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Square Inc., second right, tours the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.
Yana Paskova | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As CEO of Twitter and Square, Jack Dorsey evidently also has time to get behind his favorite candidates. In June, after the first primary debate, Dorsey donated $5,600 to Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii. As BuzzFeed pointed out, Dorsey had "liked" a number of Gabbard's tweets following the debate.

Prior to that, Dorsey wrote two $1,000 checks to tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, whose main talking point is promoting a universal basic income, guaranteeing $1,000 payments every month to every U.S. citizen over age 18.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, also recently announced his support for Yang, though there's no indication he's provided any money yet.


Ben Silbermann

Ben Silbermann, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Pinterest, speaks in front of the company's logo at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), during the company's IPO on April 18, 2019 in New York City.
Johannes Eisele | AFP | Getty Images

Lots of technology founders have gotten quite rich in the last couple years from some very high-profile IPOs. But you don't see much of that money flowing into political campaigns.

Ben Silbermann, the CEO and co-founder of Pinterest, is an exception, donating $1,000 to Buttigieg in May.

Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard, arrives prior to the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on October 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Getty Images

Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard was a lifelong Republican until the 2016 campaign, when she supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton against Trump. In campaigning for Clinton, Whitman was introduced at an event by John Hickenlooper, who was governor of Colorado at the time. According to the Denver Post, Hickenlooper called Whitman's decision "one of the most significant moments" in Clinton's attempt to pull people over from across the aisle.

In April, Whitman wrote a check for $2,000 to the Hickenlooper campaign.

Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri also donated to Hickenlooper with a $5,600 check in March.

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