Sanders and Warren scare Big Tech but thrill its workers
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have received the most donations from employees at California’s largest technology companies ahead of the crucial Super Tuesday primary contest — despite the progressive candidates’ threats to drastically curb the influence of Big Tech.
Senators Sanders and Warren have each received roughly one-third of all donations from workers at Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Tesla, Netflix, Uber and Apple, according to an FT analysis of Federal Election Commission data. The reasearch shows that their progressive politics still resonate in Silicon Valley, the centre of the US high tech industry.
This compares with 26 per cent for Pete Buttigieg — who dropped out of the race on Sunday night — 8 per cent for Joe Biden and 2 per cent for Amy Klobuchar.
The candidates competing to take on president Donald Trump in November’s election have collectively poured millions of dollars into California, flooding the airwaves with ads and holding events across the state ahead of the March 3 primary. The Golden State, with its 415 delegates, is Super Tuesday’s biggest prize of the 14 states who vote that day.
Donations to 2020 presidential candidates from employees of the state’s most prominent tech firms totalled $1.1m by the end of January 2020, accounting for 2.6 per cent of all donations by individuals in California who stated their employer ($42m).
Mr Sanders and Ms Warren lead the way in small donations, with much of the money they have received coming from people giving between $50 and $1,000 over the past two years. This suggests that Mr Sanders and Ms Warren enjoy strong grassroots support, while other candidates including Ms Klobuchar and Mr Biden have received fewer, more generous contributions.
In a sign of how important Big Tech workers have become as voters, Mr Sanders — who is hoping to establish a clear lead in the nomination race with a big win in California on Tuesday — was in San Jose, the largest city in Silicon Valley, on Sunday for a rally.
The support of tech workers for the Vermont ‘democratic socialist’ and Ms Warren — who have both proposed dramatic new measures to limit the influence of Big Tech — illustrates how progressive political activism has flourished at many Silicon Valley companies.
It also suggests there is a divide between the priorities of industry’s rank-and-file and the owners, founders and boards that have lobbied extensively against calls to restrict their power, pay more taxes or be split into smaller companies. Facebook’s lobbying bill in 2019 totalled $16.7m, while Google’s parent company, Alphabet, spent $12.6m, according to database OpenSecrets.
“I’ve never volunteered with any campaign before,” said Janelle Jolley, 33, who until last August worked on Google’s search ads team. She now volunteers at the San Francisco field office for Bernie Sanders, based in the heart of the city’s predominantly Latino Mission District.
Other candidates have enlisted Silicon Valley’s brightest and most powerful for their cause. Billionaire former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, for instance, who has spent half a billion dollars so far on a campaign that hinges on the outcome of Super Tuesday, poached Joshua To, formerly Google’s director of design for virtual and augmented reality, for his team. A source familiar with the move said Mr Bloomberg had personally contacted a high-level Google executive to help arrange the move to his campaign’s creative design team.
Mr Bloomberg has also brought on Gary Briggs, Facebook’s former chief marketing officer, and Jeff Glueck, previously chief executive of location-based app Foursquare, to work on his campaign.
The defections come as Big Tech faces a political backlash, as the companies face accusations of undermining democracy and helping elect Donald Trump.
“I see these brilliant, highly educated, highly driven, passionate people working on things that are meant to make somebody wealthy,” said Dan Couch, formerly at San Francisco-based internet radio start-up TuneIn, but who is now a Sanders volunteer. “I was complicit in it, so I’m trying to live my values more clearly now.”
Those still within the ranks of Big Tech face tight policies on political activity as companies try to avoid being seen as politically biased. Social media companies have faced persistent accusations by conservatives that they are biased against them.
“Facebook employees may participate in personal political activities, on their own time, with their own funds and in accordance with their own political preferences and desires,” the social media company stated in its policy.
Facebook’s founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was forced to defend himself after he recommended candidates to work on Mr Buttigieg’s campaign in October. “I think this should probably not be misconstrued as if I’m like deeply involved in trying to support their campaign or something like that,” Mr Zuckerberg told reporters.
Google said employees were free to take unpaid leave to work on campaigns, so long as their work credentials were never used as a way of bolstering support for a candidate — for example, by promoting their presence at a fundraising dinner. Twitter would not share its policies on employee political engagement when asked by the Financial Times.
Many workers at tech firms said they were reluctant to speak about their work in politics as they worried it would jeopardise their chances of returning to work once the campaigns were over. Even among tech workers who had resigned permanently, there was a fear that their connections made them a target for online harassment.
“I do support his policy platform when it comes to tech,” said former Google worker Ms Jolley of Senator Sanders. “But I think this campaign is more about organising and harnessing a mass movement to win back some control for working people. It’s about Medicare for All, free college and a Green New Deal.”