Amidst Midterm Elections, Silicon Valley Campaign Donations Higher Than Ever

October 28, 2014

8:00 pm

In an effort to engage the public in a national conversation about politics and to encourage voters to take part in the next week’s midterm elections, NPR launched an initiative to help people organize their very own 2014 election parties. Utilizing Googlecast, it’s the organization’s last-ditch attempt in letting people know precisely the equal importance of midterm elections to the presidential elections. And, indeed, the midterm elections are crucial – with 36 Senate races and governor races across the country, voters will determine the political leadership that (in theory) would best represent their values; yet, the general public is often the least involved in these elections, with companies and lobbyists often playing a larger role in influencing the electoral process. In this year’s midterm elections, in particular, Silicon Valley campaign donations from companies and its elite tech figures are higher than they’ve been historically – a testament to both the increasing prevalence and influence of the tech industry in America’s economy.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the tech and Internet industry has given nearly $23.6m so far in the 2014 midtem election cycle. In a recent report by the Financial Times, Google’s political action committee, NetPAC, has spent contributed more to political campaigns this year than Goldman Sachs – something unprecedented, considering that the securities and investments industry regularly leads in political campaign donations (this year contributing over $126 million to the midterms). Similar to the 2010 midterm elections, Microsoft leads Silicon Valley campaign donations, spending more than $1.78 million on contributions to PACs and candidates.

And, it seems, within these tech giants themselves, employees continue to contribute even more of their money to political candidates. Earlier this year, the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported that workers from leading companies like Google, Facebook, and Oracle have doled out millions of dollars to support candidates in the 2014 midterm elections. Google employees, for example, have contributed more than $1.7 million in political campaign donations – way more than the $920,000 they contributed in the 2010 midterm elections.

Silicon Valley’s involvement in political campaigns is nothing new and its increased involvement shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the 2012 presidential election, Silicon Valley campaign donations to President Barack Obama set record numbers, with notable tech leaders like Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Google’s Sergey Brin providing to the campaign. Last year alone, ten tech companies (including Apple, Intel, and Amazon), spent a combined $61.2 million on efforts to influence federal policy. And this year, with legislation on the table dealing with such issues as privacy rights, intellectual property, and immigration – all with the potential to greatly affect the tech industry – Silicon Valley campaign donations are higher than ever.

When it comes down to it, though, votes are what get people elected, which is depressing when you consider the historically low turnouts for U.S. midterm elections. In a representative democracy where freedom is valued and the demand for and proclamation of ownership to certain inalienable rights are touted by the majority of its populace, pathetic levels of involvement in the political process reveal the actual and largely-apathetic American ethos. This political lethargy cannot convey itself any more clearly than during midterm elections, where participation is much lower than that in presidential contests.

In 2012, during the last presidential election, 54 percent of the voting-age population participated; contrast that percentage with the 2010 midterms, which only saw 36.9 percent participation. Granted, while it’s easy to recognize some of the reasons behind the varied participation rates – namely: that Americans see a greater need for participation in a process that will determine the next “Leader of the Free World” – it’s pure idiocy, and exposes American voters for what they are: a highly under-informed population with incomplete information on our American political system. I guess one can only hope that – with our society moving towards an economy with an increasing focus on the tech sector – Americans will inherit the same level of concern held by Silicon Valley companies and actually participate in the political process.

In an effort to get more voters to the polls on November 4th, organizations from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Internet Association, to tech giants like Google and Facebook, have teamed up for Get to the Polls, an initiative to help people find where they need to be on election day. Find out your polling location for the 2014 midterm elections here!

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things.

Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in ‘Doctor Who’, Murakami, ‘The Mindy Project’, and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a “writer”. Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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