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Meet the Most Powerful Political Players in Silicon Valley

Running for president and need some money from the world of tech? Here are some people you might like to get to know.

Composite image by Re/code

In New York or Los Angeles, political fundraising visits have a predictably transactional quality: The candidate shows up for an event, poses for a photo with a donor and leaves with a contribution.

Not in Silicon Valley. The region’s technology elite expect to spend time — lots of time — with a candidate to understand the politician’s views on a range of social and environmental issues before ever writing a check. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner once attended a dinner in the Bay Area where he expected to discuss rural education, but instead fielded questions about his stance on abortion, the death penalty and marriage equality.

Aides are known to prep for weeks in anticipation of a visit to the Bay Area — in part because there is no set of technology issues that unites the industry’s disparate players in the same way that, say, Hollywood rallies around copyright protection, according to veteran fundraisers.

“We’re like an ATM, but for the ATM to work you have to answer some questions,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist in the Bay Area who advises billionaire Tom Steyer and other major donors. “It’s like an ATM with a pop quiz before you get the money.”

Plenty of candidates are willing to subject themselves to the Bay Area’s billionaire exam. The effort can be richly rewarded, as was the case for Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, the beneficiary of a recent fundraising party at Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s 21-acre Woodside estate, where attendees paid $2,700 per person.

The region and its more established players are gradually overcoming a historical reluctance to engage with Washington, D.C. Google, for instance, created a political action committee that donated more than $1 million in the 2014 election cycle — with campaign contributions roughly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Some of the Bay Area’s newer companies, and newly minted IPO billionaires, don’t appreciate the importance of spreading the wealth evenly, to assure influence regardless of the electoral outcome, say veteran pols. All that in due time.

But who will help the tech rich get there? Who makes the introductions? A little-known group of consiglieres, with contacts in Washington and Silicon Valley, connect the technology industry’s affluent, socially conscious donors with like-minded candidates. These are not the bold-faced names profiled in Vanity Fair or the target of gossip fodder for Gawker. These are the get-shit-done people. They are the gatekeepers who control access to the monied. They are the networkers with deep partisan political ties who can, with an email or phone call, convince their friends and associates to loosen their purse strings for one candidate or another.

Meet the political power brokers of Silicon Valley:

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Elliot Schrage of Facebook

Bio: Schrage is head of public policy and communications at Facebook, where he is responsible for public policy strategy. He held a similar position at Google before joining the social network. Prior to his time in Silicon Valley, he served as a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign relations, where he worked on issues of corporate social responsibility.

Advises: If you’re a politician looking for some face time with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, you’ll need to go through Schrage first. Schrage is quick to add that the social network has lots of politically savvy and connected people, among them Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who served as deputy Treasury Secretary during President Bill Clinton’s administration and endorsed Hillary Clinton’s first presidential run. She’s also a supporter this time around.

Stacey Rubin of the Emerson Collective

Bio: Rubin directs strategy and political activities for the Emerson Collective, a group that distributes grants and makes investments in entrepreneurial business ideas. Before joining the organization, she worked for seven years with the Clinton administration, where she shepherded nominees through the Senate confirmation process for part of that time at the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. She spent three years at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal.

Advises: Rubin advises Laurene Powell Jobs, billionaire widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Powell Jobs has been a vocal advocate for immigration reform, and gives generously (in the 2014 election cycle she donated $525,000 to the liberal Senate Majority PAC). She has ties to the Clintons dating back to having befriended Chelsea Clinton during her years at Stanford University. Powell Jobs supported Hillary Clinton’s initial presidential bid in 2008, and again this time around, donating $25,000 to the Ready for Hillary PAC.

Courtesy of Bay Bridge Strategies

Alix Burns of Bay Bridge Strategies

Bio: Burns established herself at the intersection of politics and technology with TechNet, a bipartisan lobbying group founded by John Doerr, Jim Barksdale and John Chambers to raise money for politicians and to advance pro-technology policies. She worked on Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000 and went on to start her own Washington, D.C., consultancy, Bay Bridge Strategies.

Advises: John Doerr, the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture capitalist who is regarded as one of the most politically connected and generous of anyone in the VC community, having written checks for more than $1.2 million in 2014 alone, most of it to Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He frequently travels to Washington, D.C., and sits on the board of the foundation that will build the Obama presidential library.


Chris Garland

Bio: Garland has spent years in the legislative arena, working in Sacramento as a legislative analyst and as deputy director for the speaker of the California Assembly. He spent the last four years as chief of staff to Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Advises: He’s the new political director for Sean Parker, the billionaire co-founder of Napster and former president of Facebook who has become increasingly involved in politics. Parker poured $1.6 million into the 2014 election cycle, including a $7,600 donation to the Rand Paul Victory committee. He joined with’s Marc Benioff and angel investor Ron Conway in backing Brigade Media, a social network for politics that’s intended to spur civic engagement at all levels of government.

Ken Glueck, Senior VP for government affairs, Oracle

Bio: Based in Washington, Glueck has run Oracle’s Washington office for about 20 years, having built a career as a tech lobbyist before there was a phrase for it and running field operations for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Advises: Glueck advises Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder and CTO of business software giant Oracle. Ellison is technically a registered Democrat, but has tended to back Republicans in the recent elections — including Mitt Romney in 2012 — by donating to their Super-PAC organizations which have no limit on contribution size. Ellison shook up the 2016 race with a pair of contributions totaling $3 million to Marco Rubio’s Super PAC and threw a Rubio fundraiser at his Woodside, Calif., estate. As of Aug. 1, Rubio led the Silicon Valley money race among Republican presidential contenders.

Susan Molinari, VP for public policy, Google

Bennett Raglin, Getty Images North America

Bio: Republican politics run in Molinari’s family: She’s the daughter of the Staten Island political boss and former Congressman Guy Molinari. She served seven years in the U.S. House of Representatives, resigning in 1997 to take a short-lived job as a TV host. She turned to lobbying, first heading up The Washington Group, then joining Bracewell & Giuliani, the lobbying firm co-founded by the former New York mayor.

Advises: She joined Google’s NETPAC organization after the search giant’s reputation for favoring Democrats — 90 percent of political contributions from senior Googlers have gone to Democrats — had started to sting. Her mandate: Broaden Google’s reach and access to Republicans. Google NETPAC money goes mostly to Congressional candidates, and slightly favored Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate in the 2014 mid-term election. New NETPAC beneficiaries on Molinari’s watch have included red-meat conservative groups like Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, The Heritage Foundation and the American Conservative Union, which notably hosts the CPAC Conference, an early proving ground for Republican presidential contenders.

Ted Ullyot, Andreessen Horowitz


Bio: Ullyot is best known as Facebook’s first general counsel (2008-2013), and recently joined the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz as its first head of policy and regulatory affairs. He cut his legal teeth at Kirkland and Ellis, the powerful Chicago-based law firm, and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. His Republican ties go deep: He served a stint as deputy assistant to the president during the George W. Bush administration, and later as chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.

Advises: At Andreessen Horowitz, his policy work is considered strictly non-partisan. He doesn’t advise Andreessen (Marc) and Horowitz (Ben) the people, who keep their own counsel on who they give to. (FEC filings show that Andreessen gives steadily to Republicans while Horowitz rarely gives.) Ullyot has yet to back a Republican presidential candidate for 2016 — he gave to Romney in 2012 — but his network will prove valuable to whomever he ultimately supports.

Garrett Johnson, Lincoln Labs


Bio: A champion shot-putter for Florida State University and a Rhodes Scholar, Johnson is the founder of SendHub, a Y Combinator backed company that offers a cloud-based phone system for businesses. He co-founded Lincoln Labs in 2013 with friends Chris Abrams and Aaron Ginn with the aim of building up the Republican brand in Silicon Valley and enhancing the party’s technology chops. The group organizes hackathons and meetups intended to identify conservatives who work in the tech industry.

Advises: While not yet considered a “varsity” operation by the Republican establishment — “It operates at a lower level of the ecosystem” as one veteran GOP operative put it — Lincoln Labs is considered a force to watch as the party looks for ways to broaden its appeal with younger, tech-focused voters in a region that leans heavily Democratic. Still, Johnson is starting to take on the trappings of an up-and-coming establishment player: He has contributed both to Jeb Bush’s campaign and the candidate’s Super PAC and also sits on the campaign’s Bay Area finance committee.

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