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Silicon Valley is finally opening its pockets for Hillary Clinton

But a late start could mean she'll have trouble matching Obama's $20 million haul in 2012
August 30, 2016, 7:10pm
Apple CEO Tim Cook (L) and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta leave a fundraiser in Los Altos Hills, California, August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

In the land that fetishizes the new, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has had a tough go of it. In 2008, Silicon Valley's tech community overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama's tech-savvy campaign over the establishment-favorite Clinton.

Silicon Valley has voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1984 and the tech industry broadly has been among the most generous to Democrats. And yet this year the tech elite has been slow to back Clinton financially. Tech's plutocrats have largely stayed on the sidelines, until recently, while the rank-and-file tech employees donated heavily to Bernie Sanders through groups like "Coders for Sanders."

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As of the end of July, Sanders had outraised Clinton in the tech community handily with a haul of $6.2 million to Clinton's $3.4 million, according to the political data analysis firm Crowdpac. At the same point in 2008 and 2012, Obama had netted $5.8 million and $8.8 million respectively from techies.

But now that they're facing a choice between Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, Silicon Valley's checks and bitcoins are finally transferring to the Clinton campaign account. The question is whether tech can muster enough enthusiasm to match Obama's $20 million haul from tech in 2012 by the time November rolls around.

"Trump's erratic behavior, repeatedly demonstrated ignorance of economics, and reckless statements about debt and default create worry in the financial markets and could have a severe chilling effect on the venture investment community," said former Obama bundler and billionaire investor Chris Sacca in an email. "I have no doubt I am leaving out another half dozen reasons for why his support in the tech and entrepreneurial community hovers within reaching distance of zero percent."

Related: What it's like to be Donald Trump's most prominent public defender

Clinton more than doubled her money from tech in just one swing through Silicon Valley last week. At a fundraiser at the home of Steve Jobs' widow, philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, Clinton raised approximately $4 million from around 20 attendees, more than she'd raised from all of the tech industry through July. Earlier in the day she attended a fundraiser co-hosted by Apple CEO Tim Cook, with 375 attendees contributing at least $2,700 each (for those keeping score, that's an additional $1,012,500, minimum). The co-hosts chipped in at least $50,000 each.

Josh Becker, CEO of legal analytics firm Lex Machina in Menlo Park and member of Clinton's National Finance Committee, concedes Obama was an easier sell in 2008 than Clinton in 2016. Over the last month, however, he said the donations have started coming in. "The opposition being Donald Trump helped," he said.

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Owen Byrd, a colleague of Becker's at Lex Machina, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama in 2008 but decided not to do the same for Clinton. "Obama in '08 was an insurgency and a new venture of a Silicon Valley style that I've never seen before or since, with rapid scale and rapid growth," said Owen Byrd, general counsel at Lex Machina. "Secretary Clinton has been around for decades. He was Google and she was IBM."

Back in 2008, Hillary Clinton was perceived as running an old-fashioned campaign in the face of Obama's robust digital organizing. Her then-campaign chief Mark Penn dismissed Obama's supporters because they "looked like Facebook," and wouldn't have a meaningful political impact. Obama's team saw an opportunity, and targeted new-money Silicon Valley magnates that Clinton neglected to chase.

Related: Foreign hackers stole up to 200,000 voters' information, FBI says

But the lack of enthusiasm for Clinton in 2016 — and the excitement for Sanders — has some wondering if sexism is also playing a role. "It's common knowledge that the tech industry is still comprised primarily of men," said George Syrop, a Sanders donor and a startup employee who asked that we not identify his employer. "Some people in tech began showing their true colors once the fashionable candidate [Sanders] was down for the count, i.e. considering voting for Bloomberg or Kasich if they threw their hats in the ring."

With the notable exception of billionaire investor, Facebook board member and Trump delegate Peter Thiel, the backlash against the Republican nominee could lead to a fourth-quarter fundraising rally. Last month, more than 140 executives including CEOs of companies like Slack and Medium signed a letter condemning the Republican nominee and his campaign of "anger, bigotry and fear of new ideas." In late June, a number of high-level industry figures, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, publicly endorsed the former first lady and secretary of state.

That and one of Silicon Valley's most prominent Republicans, Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman, this week started stumping for Clinton around the country. In the primaries, Whitman backed New Jersey Republican Chris Christie.