Washington meets the Valley: How tech companies are increasing political activity

Author: Avi Mediratta ’19

In the 1790s, just following the founding of the United States, President Washington approved a plan to establish the nation’s capital in a swampy little town on the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland. This town would become known as the District of Columbia, better known as Washington, D.C.

Almost two centuries later, the microprocessor was invented in a southern suburb of San Francisco, California. Technology companies sprang up in this area that later came to be called Silicon Valley, named for the material that makes up computer chips.

Over 3,000 miles away, these two areas are coming closer and closer together, as tech companies are becoming more involved in the political process in Washington. During the rise of Silicon Valley, tech companies were hostile to participation in government processes, but now that companies have grown to be large and internationally recognized firms, cooperation with the government has become necessary.

One way to see tech companies’ involvement in Washington is through political donations. According to the New York Times (1), the technology industry spent over $71 million on political donations in 2014, and over $141 million the year before. One issue with these donations that has been pointed out by political experts is the lack of transparency in within Silicon Valley donations. According to the San Francisco Chronicle (2), technology companies seldom disclose information about funds given to interest groups that eventually finance candidates. Salesforce, Google, and Netflix are some of the more notorious firms for lacking transparency in their donations.

So, where exactly are these funds going? Silicon Valley is generally assumed to lean left, partly because it is located in the overwhelmingly democratic state of California, but also because of the general hip and progressive attitudes of many of the tech companies’ employees. The donations of tech companies, however, are typically split between Democrats and Republicans. Marc Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, recently turned some heads when he held a fundraiser (3) for Republican governor of New Jersey Chris Christie. According to Business Insider (4), AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has been a strong Republican donor, and supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, has actually split his donations evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

The political diversity of tech companies’ donations shows that Silicon Valley is not quite so politically homogenous at the higher levels of management. One thing increasing polarization among tech companies’ management shows is an increasing interest in politics among the companies. As the companies have gotten larger, they have attracted more attention from regulatory agencies within the government, and have seen the need to expand into the world of politics. According to the New York Times (1), companies have realized that the route to addressing policy issues that are important to the future of the technology industry can be found in Washington. A cooperative and receptive government can help the industry expand and innovate. These innovations serve a dual purpose; they will help the government make the lives of ordinary Americans better, and they will help the companies in Silicon Valley make a profit. The relationship between Silicon Valley and Washington certainly has a promising future.

3. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-02-14/zuckerberg-s-christie-fundraiser-draws-fans-protesters