Silicon Valley Political Contributions

American political contributions above $200 are public record.

This Federal Election Commission database lets you search who's contributed to whom. It has lots of interesting information about all kinds of people, including some that are close to us here in Silicon Valley.

Let's take a tour!

 

Y Combinator

Sam Altman and Paul Graham both contribute to progressive candidates.


A16Z

Marc Andreesen contributed only to Democrats and to a nonpartisan PAC that advocates tech company interests.

I found this surprising, since he sounds like a right-of-center libertarian on Twitter. I guess not.

Skewering Hillary hypocrisies is a bipartisan sport


Ben Horowitz donates mostly to Democrats. He was especially active supporting Obama.

This is pretty funny because it looks like Ben originally donated to Romney's first primary campaign way back in '07, then had a change of heart and made the maximum contribution to Obama '08.

He then made an even bigger contribution, $33,400, to the Democratic Hope Fund in 2015--and yet the donation receipt says it's for the 2012 election! How is that possible?

A. You can donate more to a Joint Fundraising Committee than to an individual candidate.

B. Political campaigns are often in debt years after they're finished and continue fundraising to pay it off.


Google

Sergey Brin contributes to Obama and the Google PAC.

Larry Page makes yearly contributions, only to Google PAC. Yes, there's a Google PAC and they in turn fund basically everyone in congress.


Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg. Funded a wide range of congresspeople including archconservative Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.

Sheryl Sandberg. Funded a bunch of people. Strictly Democrats.

Dustin Moskovitz. Contributed just once, giving the maximum allowed amount to Sean Eldrige. Eldrige is an interesting guy. He's a gay, married Canadian-born Democrat and one of the youngest people to ever run for Congress. He lost to the incumbent Republican by 29 points...

Dustin's contribution looks like it was made out of idealism and personal friendship. Sean Eldrige's husband Chris Hughes was another cofounder at Facebook.


Palantir

Joe Lonsdale

Stephen Cohen

Nathan Gettings

Alex Karp

I would've thought that libertarians who once wrote for the Stanford Review would donate to the Republican party and to Liberty Caucus candidates like the Pauls Ron and Rand. Nope. Joe is the most consistently Republican, but the others are mixed, also donating to local liberals like Anna Eshoo and the occasional left-wing civil libertarian like Ron Wyden.

What about the fifth Palantir cofounder, Peter Thiel? That brings me to...


The Billionaires

Peter Thiel gave a lot of money to a lot of candidates, pretty much exclusively Republican. Peter is a gay libertarian Silicon Valley icon who sends money to hardline family-values "born-again" evangelical social conservative Ted Cruz. I don't get it either.

Jeff Bezos donates primarily to Democrats

Elon Musk donates to everyone and their mom and to both parties' committees. At least one hapless government paperwork transcriber thinks he's the CEO of "Space K". 

Anyway, for a company as reliant on federal legislation and federal contracts as "Space K", it probably makes sense to spread donations across both parties and lots of congressional districts.

Elon Musk is still the greatest. He's just doing this because he has to. The ULA has a cozy, seemingly corrupt relationship with the government that goes back decades, and Elon's imperative is to compete with them.

Don't hate the player, hate the game.

K Street in Washington DC is the Sand Hill Road of federal lobbying


What I've Learned

  • Big tech companies have their own PACs. Palantir PAC. Facebook PAC. Amazon PAC. There's even a Blue Origin PAC. They all donate to both parties.

  • Some rich donors have an ideological agenda, like Peter Thiel. They really commit to specific, ideology-driven candidates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

  • More often, though, rich donors throw smaller amounts of money at both parties. The money goes to big, generic organizations like the DCCC and the RSCC. It goes to local congresspeople with safe seats, like Barbara Boxer.

    The $1k, $5k, occasionally $30k amounts involved are peanuts for these guys. It's not traditional quid-pro-quo corruption--but they are definitely paying for something. I think it's access and attention. I'd be willing to bet $10k buys you the ability to call a congressperson and talk to them directly, instead of having to leave a message with a staffer like a pleb.

  • There's a lot of variance. Some tech leaders, like Peter Thiel, donate millions year after year. Others, like Roelof Botha, don't show up in the FEC database at all.


The current system is one where the average congressperson spends more than four hours a day fundraising

Where every successful startup grows up to have its own PAC.

That doesn't seem healthy.


How can we fix it?