President Trump other Republicans often complain that Silicon Valley has an anti-conservative bias. A review of campaign finance data shows that contributions by employees at some of America’s biggest tech companies are overwhelmingly going to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Employees at Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Oracle have contributed nearly 20 times as much money to Biden as to Trump since the beginning of 2019. According to data released by the Federal Election Commission, which requires individuals who contribute $200 or more to a presidential campaign to report their employer, employees at these six companies have contributed $4,787,752 to Biden and just $239,527 to Trump.
Employees at Alphabet are Biden’s biggest financial backers in Silicon Valley, having donated just shy of $1.8 million, more than one-third of the money raised from employees of the six companies. An analysis by Open Secrets, a campaign finance watchdog, found that contributions from Alphabet’s employees and political action committee to the Biden campaign collectively exceed those from any other company. In fact, according to Open Secrets, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple account for five of the seven largest donors to the Biden campaign on that basis.
Oracle, have been less one-sided in their contributions. Roughly 20 percent of the contributions by Oracle employees have gone to Trump, compared with less than 10 percent at each of the other companies. The next-highest share going to Trump is at Microsoft, where nearly 8 percent of the money contributed to the presidential campaigns has gone to Trump. Of the six companies, Microsoft employees contributed the most total money to the Trump campaign—$75,428.
Analysis shows that employees at these six companies are contributing substantially more to both nominees than during the 2016 election. Donations to the Biden campaign are nearly twice those made to Hillary Clinton’s over the same period four years ago; Trump has raised more than four times as much money from employees at the six companies.
Big tech has a lot riding on the election. Members of Congress are probing potential antitrust violations by several of the companies; they also are considering changes to a 1990s-era law that essentially absolves website owners of responsibility for what users post on their site. Tech executives have criticized Trump’s increasingly hard line on China, a big trade partner, and on immigration, a source of many Silicon Valley employees.
That Biden is raising more money from tech than Trump isn’t exactly a surprise. Silicon Valley leaders heavily supported Clinton over Trump in 2016. And during Trump’s tenure in office, tech employees have staged several political protests against their employers’ partnerships with the administration.
In the administration’s early days in 2017, more than 2,000 Googlers orchestrated a walk out to protest Trump’s immigration ban. In 2018, Googlers also protested Project Maven, which was developing artificial intelligence for the Pentagon, and Microsoft employees called out their company for cooperating with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Earlier this year, employees at Facebook grilled CEO Mark Zuckerberg for not flagging or removing posts from the president that contain misinformation.
Trump has had a love-hate relationship with Silicon Valley during his time in the Oval Office. But in recent months his administration has been pursuing policies that would curb the power of big tech. Earlier this summer, the president signed a largely symbolic executive order that directed the Federal Communications Commission to “clarify” parts of Section 230, the law that absolves social media companies of responsibility for most of what is posted by users on their platforms. Shortly thereafter, Trump suspended H-1B visas, which many tech companies rely on to attract talent from overseas.
Trump has appeared to play favorites and pit tech companies against one another at times. When Microsoft and Amazon were competing for a $10 billion contract to provide cloud computing services for the Department of Defense, Trump allegedly told then-secretary of defense Jim Mattis to “screw Amazon.” It was allegedly a move to get back at Jeff Bezos for unflattering coverage of the president in The Washington Post, which Bezos owns. In any case, the contract was awarded to Microsoft, and Amazon continues to be a frequent target for the president.
Oracle, too, has benefited from Trump’s policies. In August, the president signed an executive order that would give Oracle and Walmart a minority stake in TikTok as the Chinese company’s “trusted technology partners.” Because it would use Oracle’s cloud services, TikTok would instantly become one of the company’s largest customers, which is a big win for Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who has a close relationship with the president.
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Biden has, on the whole, struck a warmer note with big tech. He isn’t as interested in cratering America’s relationship with China, which would be a net win for Silicon Valley. Still, Biden has signaled his intent to crack down on misinformation on social media, telling The New York Times earlier this year that he’s “never been a fan of Facebook.” He’s also signaled his intention to alter Section 230 and the protection it affords internet companies for what happens on their platforms. Overall, Biden’s friendly relationship with the valley has echoes of the Obama administration, a period when tech executives had massive influence in Washington.
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Independent of what it would mean for their employers’ bottom lines, tech employees have made it known in recent years that they care deeply about issues like climate change and diversity, which are anathema to the Trump administration and central pillars of Biden’s campaign.
WIRED’s analysis of employee campaign contributions doesn’t necessarily represent the political orientation of any of these six companies or the majority of their employees. The FEC only publishes employer data on individuals who have contributed $200 or more to a presidential campaign in a given calendar year. This means employees at these companies may have made smaller contributions to a presidential campaign that aren’t included in the data. This analysis captures the donations of fewer than 5,300 individuals out of the 1.4 million people who work at these six companies.
At none of the six companies did more than 1.2 percent of employees contribute more than $200 to a presidential campaign; at most of the companies, the portion of employees who made large contributions was substantially smaller. Alphabet and Facebook had the largest proportion of their employees who contributed $200 or more to either presidential campaign and Amazon had the smallest. At Alphabet and Facebook, fewer than 5 percent of employees who hit the contribution threshold donated to Trump. At Oracle, by contrast, 30 percent of employees who contributed $200 or more to a presidential campaign gave to Trump.
Companies are barred by federal law from contributing directly to candidates. But all of the companies in WIRED’s analysis except Apple maintain PACs that can contribute. Generally speaking, it is distributed to candidates that are seen as being supportive of the company’s goals. According to data from Open Secrets, the amount individual employees at these companies contributed to their employers’ PACs was roughly the same as the amount they contributed to individual presidential candidates.
Note on method: Campaign finance data was retrieved from the Federal Election Commission. The data includes campaign contributions made to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., and Biden for President. The data includes contributions made to these campaigns between January 1, 2019, and August 31, 2020. The data from each company includes contributions made by employees at those companies’ major subsidiaries, namely: Alphabet (DeepMind, Google, Verily, Waymo, YouTube); Amazon (Audible, Whole Foods, Zappos, Ring, Twitch, Goodreads); Facebook (Whatsapp, Giphy, Instagram); Microsoft (Github, Skype, LinkedIn, Xbox); Oracle (Netsuite). Wired
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