Silicon Valley’s biggest Democratic donors are still wrestling with which candidate they want to support in the upcoming primary. There is no clear frontrunner among the donor class, according to the first fundraising snapshot released Monday.
Tech money has for decades powered the Democratic fundraising machine, especially so in the age of Barack Obama, who embraced Silicon Valley. But the temperature has flipped sharply against tech giants – and, by extension, the people who lead those companies – and just as donors are wrestling with who to support, Democratic campaigns are wrestling with how publicly they would like to ingratiate themselves to people donors.
Democrats who are able to raise money online organically no longer need the blessing of big donors to run competitive races. However the best-capitalized campaigns tend to have strong support from both committed, high-dollar bundlers and low-dollar givers who can be tapped again and again for more money.
Many tech donors have given to multiple candidates or none at all yet, waiting until the race develops. And so while defining support from “technology donors” is up for interpretation, one quick way to judge candidates’ support from Silicon Valley is to look at which Democrat received the most max-out checks from employees of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, or Alphabet, the so-called Big Four. That shows that Kamala Harris has so far corralled the most support from well-heeled insiders, with eight executives from those companies writing maximum inspections.
Harris drew support from people like former Facebook security key Alex Stamos, Y Combinator chair Sam Altman, and investors like Ron Conway. While she is not dependent on big money – she has a healthy mix of small donors, who are responsible for 37 percent of her fundraising – she also at this point has the longest list of max-out contributors, from Silicon Valley or elsewhere. The incumbent California senator has been a fixture on the Bay Area fundraising circuit in the first quarter, drawing on her interactions with longstanding local high-dollar givers.
Beto O’Rourke also caught the attention of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest during his Senate run in Texas last year. It’s different in a presidential race, of course, but O’Rourke seems to have retained some support from high-dollar tech donors (and has five Big Four executives on his max-out list). Opportunity capitalists flocked to him last one fourth, along with well-known executives like April Underwood, formerly of Slack. He probably could be doing even better here: O’Rourke has not been doing high-dollar fundraising events and has yet to make a finance trip to Silicon Valley since announcing his run.
But the applicant with the most bold-faced titles – and the longest relationship in the Valley – is Cory Booker. Booker has five executives from the Big Four on his roster, but his FEC report is littered with marquee brands that send signals to other donors that he is a favored choice of the industry. Among Booker’s largest donors this quarter are Eric Schmidt, the previous Google CEO who epitomized Silicon Valley’s close relationship with the Democratic Party; Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff; PayPal CEO Dan Schulman; former eBay CEO John Donahoe; and a litany of elite opportunity capitalists. This all makes sense given Booker’s convenience with these people – he’s known some of these donors since they were undergrads jointly at Stanford – and because the New Jersey senator has worked the Silicon Valley donor circuit as hard as anyone since announcing.
One of the most intriguing name on Booker’s FEC report is Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn who is now an ascendant Democratic powerbroker and megadonor. Hoffman and Booker are personally close, though he will not endorse any candidate; Recode has previously reported that Hoffman is expected to write $2,800 max-out bank checks to as many as six Democratic main candidates. Filings show that Hoffman wrote a maximum check to Amy Klobuchar this last quarter.
Several tech financiers have privately told Recode they plan to back Joe Biden should he choose to enter the race, as expected later this month.
Other Democrats with promise among Silicon Valley donors include Pete Buttigieg, who venture capitalist (and Sheryl Sandberg brother-in-law) Marc Bodnick told Recode he’s backing exclusively, and – somewhat surprisingly – Elizabeth Warren. Despite calling for the break up of technology giants like Google, four Google executives provided the senator maximum contributions – three doing so after she rattled the cage.