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Who Does Big Tech Want To Be President? Tech Employees And Executives Are Lining Up Behind Different Candidates

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Jake Mercier Contributor
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Democrats vying for the White House have attracted the eyes, and wallets, of Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires, and the tech execs aren’t afraid of picking favorites.

While Big Tech has been pouring large amounts of money into the campaigns of old and friendly faces like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker, they seem to have consolidated support around another major contender — South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. (RELATED: Democrats Call To Regulate Big Tech While Raising Money Off Big Tech Execs)

Buttigieg has been making the rounds at high-profile Bay Area fundraisers hosted by the likes of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, former chief product officer for Facebook Chris Cox, and Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann. At one time in May, he raced through five Silicon Valley fundraisers in a single day. In fact, Recode recently reported that a whopping 13 percent of his fundraising yield from this year’s second quarter came from the Bay Area alone.

With a significant amount of wealthy donors, Mayor Pete hasn’t been shy about his ‘all of the above’ fundraising strategy which contrasts sharply from the small-donor-fueled campaigns of populist firebrands like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Sanders and Warren, interestingly enough, do rake in a lot of cash from employees (rather than executives) of Big Tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, with the largest donations usually from software engineers all the way down to a few dollars chipped in by minimum wage workers in Amazon warehouses.

Pete Buttigieg, South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful, speaks at a campaign event at Saint Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, U.S. September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage – RC12D7A9A050

A quick glance at “Pete for America” FEC filings from the first two fundraising quarters of 2019, however, shows a different trend: Silicon Valley executives, lawyers, and power players are lining up to max out their donations to Buttigieg.

For example, Thomas Ranese, a former Google executive (now VP of Global Marketing at Uber), donated $1,800 to the South Bend Mayor. Marcus David, VP at Facebook, and David Lawee, an executive who sits on the board of Lyft and founder of CapitalG — an investment firm headed by Google’s parent company Alphabet — also maxed out donations to Buttigieg. 

Mayor Pete has seen even seen funds flow in from DoorDash CEO Tony Xu, Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane, and from family members of influential billionaire Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The list — full of executives, lawyers, directors, policy advisors, lobbyists, and more — continues.

Beyond glitzy “money bundling” sessions, though, the South Bend Mayor has stacked his campaign with Googlers and Techies of all kinds: Buttigieg’s National Political Director is Stephen Brokaw, former Marketing Manager at Google. His National Policy Director, Sonal Shah, was the head of Google’s “Global development Initiative,” after serving as a Vice President at Goldman Sachs. (RELATED: Here’s How Lawmakers And Regulators Plan On Breaking Up The Big Tech Industry)

At Google.org — Google’s philanthropic arm — Shah worked with George Soros and others on initiatives that provided “capital to small and medium businesses.” BuzzFeed reported that Shah also played a role in orchestrating “Google’s place in the Obama transition” back in 2009, which later earned her a role in the administration.

Buttigieg is no stranger to rubbing shoulders with the tech world. Some have reported that Buttigieg was a former classmate of billionaire Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard. Interestingly enough, Zuckerberg even visited the previously little-known mayor in 2017 during his trip around America (which definitely wasn’t testing the waters for a presidential run). Zuckerberg and Buttigieg filmed a live stream together, talking about merging tech and community initiatives. As far back as 2010, Buttigieg sought backing from high-rollers in New York and Silicon Valley and later made technology and AI investment a large part of his own city’s initiatives during his still-continuing tenure as mayor.

Mark Zuckerberg and Pete Buttigieg’s Facebook Livestream from South Bend in 2017. Screenshot via Facebook / Mark Zuckerberg.

Buttigieg isn’t the only one being courted by (and courting) Big Tech. Kamala Harris also has a similar group of backers from the tech sector, who also advise her on policy. Among the names who sent thousands of dollars to Harris: Vijaya Gadde, the infamous “Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead” at Twitter, who is known for her appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, where she shut down allegations of “liberal bias” and censorship at the company.

Even so, Buttigieg has outpaced Harris in her home state of California, taking the fundraising lead with a strong base of tech executives betting on the Mayor of South Bend.

Ultimately, the question is, what does Silicon Valley want with Pete Buttigieg?

For one thing, he is the youngest candidate for president at 37 years old. That comes with an inherently better understanding of technology than the septuagenarians leading the Democratic field — and the one occupying the White House. 

On top of that, Mayor Pete, despite saying that we should look into updating anti-trust law, has mostly stopped short of offering specifics on how he would combat the growing power of Silicon Valley. 

In other words, he has just enough vagueness in his message about Big Tech that they may not feel the same pressure that they would with a Warren, Yang, Sanders, or even Tulsi Gabbard — who recently filed suit against Google on “censorship” grounds — in the Oval Office. (RELATED: ‘Tech Witch Hunt’: Here’s How 20 Or More States Plan To Take On Big Tech)

With all of this in mind, it’s probably not a coincidence that the Democratic hopeful does not include a section on his website detailing his position on the issue of Big Tech.

He does, however, explain that he sees “tech companies” as a useful tool in helping to “heal the divides between our communities,” but stops short in explaining how Big Tech would do that beyond overt censorship of ideas that they deem “hateful or divisive.”