Silicon Valley: More Liberal Than Ever?

Silicon Valley: More Liberal Than Ever?
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Two things stand out about President Obama's visit to Facebook yesterday for a town hall hosted by Mark Zuckerberg.

One is that Obama was there in the first place. In effect, Zuckerberg and Facebook gave the President a high profile venue in which to beat up on Republican budget ideas for an hour. That tells you something about the company's politics. Facebook, it is safe to say, is a solidly Democratic outfit. In fact, if you look at the record of political giving by company employees you'll find only two who have given any money to Republicans at all, including the general counsel Ted Ullyot. Ullyot is the suit at Facebook. He used to be chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and now handles Facebook's increasingly complicated legal issues.

Mark Zuckerberg has yet to make any political donations, and hasn't been overt about his politics. But he sure did seem happy to be sitting next to Barack Obama. And when Obama said that the rich needed to pay higher taxes, including people like Zuckerberg, Mark answered: "I'm cool with that."

Maybe the best tip off about the company's politics comes from the donations of Sheryl Sandberg, the company's powerful chief operating officer. She's given over $40,000 to Democrats since joining Facebook, including maxing out to the DNC just weeks before the 2008 election.

One thing is clear: When Facebook goes public, it's not just its investors who are going to win big: It is also Democratic fundraisers.

Of course, all this sounds very familiar. Google also has had a strong love affair with Barack Obama and, as its employees grew richer, they have contributed ever more money to Democrats. Obama first visited the Googeplex in 2004 and returned in November 2007 to a hugely warm reception. Googlers were the fourth largest bloc of donors to Obama, giving his campaign around $800,000. Overall, Googlers made $1.7 million in political donations in 2008, with 83 percent of that money going to Republicans. Eric Schmidt was among the few leading CEOs to actively campaign for Obama.

It wasn't always this way in Silicon Valley. Back in 1992, as I describe in my book, Fortunes of Change, Bill Clinton raised just $84,000 from the entire software and computer industry. And in 1996, tech employees gave slightly more money to World War II veteran Bob Dole than to Clinton.

Silicon Valley has not just gotten a lot richer in the past two decades, it has become more liberal. Overall, Democrats raised twice as much money as Republicans from the tech industry in 2008 and the industry has produced some notable progressives: Rob Glaser, the founder of RealNetworks, was a major backer of Air America; the software entrepreneurs Wes Boyd and Joan Blade founded; the mega backers of gay rights, Tim Gill and David Bohnett, both made their fortunes from technology; progressive movie maker Jeff Skoll made his billions from eBay; and InfoSeek founder Steve Kirsch has given millions to progressive causes.

Ultimately, though, we haven't seen anything yet when it comes to the political impact of Silicon Valley money. A few decades from now, there will be a number of major new foundations that are busy giving away the billions made by Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and so on. Judging by the politics of these individuals today, I'd say we're headed for a new golden age of progressive philanthropy.

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