clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Silicon Valley Democrats aren’t sure who they want as their nominee

Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and Cory Booker are battling it out in the fundraising streets of Silicon Valley.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Kamala Harris.
2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on the campaign trail.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Silicon Valley’s biggest Democratic donors are still wrestling with which candidate they want to support in the upcoming primary. There is no clear frontrunner among the donor class, according to the first fundraising snapshot released Monday.

Tech money has for decades powered the Democratic fundraising machine, especially so in the age of Barack Obama, who embraced Silicon Valley. But the temperature has turned sharply against tech giants — and, by extension, the people who lead those companies — and just as donors are wrestling with who to support, Democratic campaigns are wrestling with how publicly they want to ingratiate themselves to those donors.

Democrats who are able to raise money online organically no longer need the blessing of big donors to run competitive races. But the best-capitalized campaigns tend to have strong support from both committed, high-dollar bundlers and low-dollar givers who can be tapped again and again for more money.

And support from Silicon Valley millionaires ... doesn’t hurt.

Many tech donors have given to multiple candidates or none at all yet, waiting until the race develops. And so while defining support from “tech donors” is up for interpretation, one quick way to judge candidates’ support from Silicon Valley is to look at which Democrat received the most max-out checks from employees of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, or Alphabet, the so-called Big Four. That shows that Kamala Harris has so far corralled the most support from well-heeled insiders, with eight executives from those companies writing maximum checks.

Harris drew support from people like former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos, Y Combinator chair Sam Altman, and investors like Ron Conway. While she is not dependent on big money — she has a healthy mix of small donors, who are responsible for 37 percent of her fundraising — she also at this point has the longest list of max-out contributors, from Silicon Valley or elsewhere. The incumbent California senator has been a fixture on the Bay Area fundraising circuit in the first quarter, drawing on her relationships with longstanding local high-dollar givers.

Beto O’Rourke also caught the attention of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest during his Senate run in Texas last year. It’s different in a presidential race, of course, but O’Rourke seems to have retained some support from high-dollar tech donors (and has five Big Four executives on his max-out list). Venture capitalists flocked to him last quarter, along with well-known executives like April Underwood, formerly of Slack. He probably could be doing even better here: O’Rourke has not been doing high-dollar fundraising events and has yet to make a finance trip to Silicon Valley since announcing his run.

But the candidate with the most bold-faced names — and the longest relationship in the Valley — is Cory Booker. Booker has five executives from the Big Four on his roster, but his FEC report is littered with marquee names that send signals to other donors that he is a favored choice of the industry. Among Booker’s largest donors this quarter are Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO who epitomized Silicon Valley’s close relationship with the Democratic Party; Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff; PayPal CEO Dan Schulman; former eBay CEO John Donahoe; and a litany of elite venture capitalists. This all makes sense given Booker’s ease with these people — he’s known some of these donors since they were undergrads together at Stanford — and because the New Jersey senator has worked the Silicon Valley donor circuit as hard as anyone since announcing.

The most intriguing name on Booker’s FEC report is Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn who is now an ascendant Democratic powerbroker and megadonor. Hoffman and Booker are personally close, though he will not endorse any candidate; Recode has previously reported that Hoffman is expected to write $2,800 max-out checks to as many as six Democratic primary candidates. Filings show that Hoffman wrote a maximum check to Amy Klobuchar this last quarter.

Several tech financiers have privately told Recode they plan to back Joe Biden should he choose to enter the race, as expected later this month.

Other Democrats with promise among Silicon Valley donors include Pete Buttigieg, who venture capitalist (and Sheryl Sandberg brother-in-law) Marc Bodnick told Recode he is backing exclusively, and — somewhat surprisingly — Elizabeth Warren. Despite calling for the breakup of tech giants like Google, four Google executives gave the senator maximum contributions — three doing so after she rattled the cage.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.