Politics

Silicon Valley is spending way more on the 2020 election than it did on 2016

Silicon Valley is spending far more money to oust Donald Trump in 2020 than it did in 2016, a testament to the new political muscle that the tech industry has flexed over the last four years. And the money is not just from its billionaires.

The tech industry did spend big to support Hillary Clinton in 2016. But Trump was merely a candidate then, without a track record of tangible policy changes on immigration, climate change, or other issues that concern the tech industry. And Silicon Valley did not have the years of preparation to start new groups, raise big money, and mobilize its energy in the sophisticated ways that it has had in the runup to 2020.

And so this time around, Silicon Valley — led by this billionaire class and its captains of industry — has plunged even deeper into the world of partisan campaigning, according to a Recode analysis of extensive campaign-finance data. The exact amount depends on how you define Silicon Valley, but more money has been marshaled to back Joe Biden than was raised to back Clinton, no matter how you measure it.

Ken Duda, a software executive who has spent millions of dollars on this election, said he has spent three times as much as he did in 2016 to beat Trump this cycle. Duda described himself as politically moderate and not a news obsessive but said he was deeply concerned because he believes Trump is leading the country into an “autocracy.”

“I would be very happy to go back to ignoring politics like I did before 2016,” he told Recode. “I hope to put Twitter away after this election, and my political donations will go away along with that. That’s my hope.”

This rise in Democratic giving is all happening against a backdrop of tension between the party and its donors from the tech industry who increasingly fund it. The Democratic Party has gotten far tougher on tech companies and its leaders over this four-year period — even debating a potential breakup of these giants — and despite being the beneficiary of its money, Biden himself has said that he’ll keep on scrutinizing Silicon Valley.

Coming up with a distinct definition for what qualifies as “Silicon Valley” — whether it’s a physical place, an industry, both, or something more thematic — is challenging. So for this analysis, Recode worked with data-analysis outfitter GovPredict to run three different analyses on three different (even if all imperfect) windows into total Silicon Valley donations:

  • Contributions by people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area zip codes
  • Contributions by people who describe themselves as a “software engineer” or working in “venture capital”
  • Contributions by people who describe themselves as working for Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Apple, or Alphabet (or its subsidiaries, Google or YouTube)

All of these analyses looked at the total donations to the Biden, Clinton, and Trump campaigns; the Democratic and Republican National Committees; joint fundraising committees between their campaigns and their parties; and major super PACs supporting their campaigns. All contributions from the beginning of the year before the election and up to three weeks before Election Day were included.

To some extent, Silicon Valley is doing nothing unusual. 2020 is by far the most expensive election cycle, adjusted for inflation — costing more than twice as much as the runner-up, the 2016 race. But the new money reflects how Silicon Valley is increasingly turning its financial power into political power that could persist after Election Day.

Bay Area

People who live in the nine counties considered to be in the San Francisco Bay Area gave 22 percent more to Democrats in 2020 than they did in 2016, a jump from about $163 million to $199 million. (Those figures include money given in both cycles to super PACs by Democratic megadonor and San Franciscan Tom Steyer, who is not in tech but who donated tens of millions in both 2016 and 2020.)

Gifts to the GOP from the Bay Area, where Republicans are few and far between, rose more dramatically, albeit from a far smaller base: After giving $800,000 to Republicans in 2016, Bay Area residents gave $22 million to boost Trump in 2020, a haul that came from figures like Oracle CEO Safra Catz.

Occupation

Growth in political donations by people with “software” or “venture capital” in their job titles

If you look at tech by choosing two common job descriptions — venture capitalist and software engineer — you can also see the new energy on the left.

This group gave $7.2 million to Democrats in 2016. Four years later, that sum had almost tripled to $19 million. Republican donations from this slice of Silicon Valley also grew by about threefold but once again from a smaller base — from almost $700,000 to $2 million.

Big Tech companies

Chart: Growth in political donations by employees at top tech companies

Lastly, one easy, simple way to measure “Silicon Valley” is to look at its biggest, most iconic companies, including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Netflix.

Big Tech employees are giving far more in the Trump-Biden race than they did in the Trump-Clinton race. Donations to Democratic efforts jumped from about $8.5 million to about $14 million, growing by nearly 70 percent. Meanwhile, donations to back Trump from Big Tech employees almost quintupled — from just about $180,000 to $850,000. That’s despite Trump’s frequently blasting these donors’ employers, including in the final days of the campaign.


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