SAN JOSE, Calif. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Silicon Valley and the electronics industry it symbolizes is divided by its own version of red and blue states—and a few colors in between. Uniting all sides is a common set of science and business concerns and an engineer's deep skepticism about Washington and politics.
In broad terms, the leaders of capital-intensive sectors such as semiconductors and communications tend to favor Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.. Content, software and venture capital businesses are generally behind Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
The Center for Responsive Politics estimates the two candidates will need to raise at least $500 million each. Based on monthly reports through July 2008 (the latest figures available), the center said the Obama campaign had raised more than $389 million, 96 percent from individual contributions. By contrast, the McCain campaign had raised only $174 million, 81 percent from individuals.
The funding totals the center can directly trace to high-tech industries is relatively small, but generally favors Obama. In what the center breaks down as communications/electronics, and computers/Internet sectors, Obama has raised $16.8 million compared to $4.4 million for McCain. Obama also leads in donations from the entertainment sector ($4.8 million compared to less than $1 million), but trails in the relatively small contributions from telephone utilities (less than $250,000 compared to about $500,000) where McCain has strong ties to telecom companies he once oversaw as chairman of the Senate Commerce Comittee.
A more detailed picture emerges from the center's lists of individual contributors who are limited to $2,300 per person, and fundraisers, also called bundlers because they aggregate contributions from multiple individuals and groups to hit specified targets.
Obama contributors include a handful of Googlers, including Alan Eustace, a senior vice president of engineering. (Google chief executive Eric Schmidt has not publically endorsed a candidate, though he has had policy discussions with the Obama campaign.)
Several top Hollywood execs including Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen of Dreamworks are Obama bundlers (committed to at least half a million dollars each), as are some Silicon Valley startup managers and venture capitalists.
Indeed the VC community has been a huge source of support for Obama and the Democratic party in general, according to a report in The Atlantic Monthly that chronicled its efforts. Obama has leveraged a national grassroots movement, often operating online, that has rallied 750,000 active volunteers and a whopping 1,276,000 donors through March, according to the article.
Take for example Pete Garcia, the chief financial officer of startup Nanosys (Palo Alto, Calif.). Garcia agreed to raise up to $100,000 as a bundler for Obama.
"I was one of the first contributors to his campaign back in February 2007," said Garcia, who now serves as a finance coordinator for the Obama campaign in Northern California. "The first issue that drew me to him was his stand on the war in Iraq. I think he had it right," he said.
Garcia describes himself as a novice to politics. He worked with a dozen others to set up a Silicon Valley headquarters for Obama during the primary season, his first active involvement in a campaign. That office now boasts a database of 20,000 volunteers and runs a phone bank for work in swing states such as Nevada.
The startup exec said he believes Obama understands technology issues because he has used the Web and cellular networks to raise funds and he has promised to appoint a chief technology officer for the federal government.
"I'm not sure exactly what he has in mind for this position, but it does show the level of importance he puts on technology," Garcia said. "He could be an advocate to help advance technology as well as understanding for issues such as patents and H-1B visas."
On the other side, McCain has attracted contributors and bundlers from Cisco Systems, Qualcomm, Verizon and other communications companies, often reaching up to the chief executive's office.
John Chambers, Cisco, chief executive, has agreed to raise up to a quarter million dollars for McCain. Len Lauer, chief operating officer for Qualcomm, has committed to raise $100,000, one of several contributors from the company.
Former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina is a bundler and active spokeswoman for McCain. Both she and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman spoke at the Republican National Convention last month in St. Paul, Minn.
Way outside the Beltway
McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is tentatively set to speak at a private fundraiser in October at the Silicon Valley home of Thomas Seibel, a software entrepreneur who sold his business to Oracle in 2006.
It is the only Silicon Valley visit by either presidential campaign expected in the last weeks of the campaign since California is widely believed to be firmly in the grip of the Obama camp, a fact both sides cite with a sense of disenfranchisement.
"Silicon Valley has always been ignored by Republicans because they never have a chance to win here," said Brian Halla, chief executive of National Semiconductor. Like several other top electronics execs, Halla declined to talk about his choice for president, although he is listed as a contributor to the McCain campaign.
Michael Krause, a senior technologist in HP's PC server group, said in his personal opinion the electoral college rules need to be revised to create a more representative system that forces the candidates to be more responsive to California and Silicon Valley. "That's what a lot of engineers I talk to would like to see," said Krause.
"Obama comes here for fundraising, but nothing else, and McCain writes the state off, so you have almost 40 million people not being listened to," he said.
See related image: Who's giving what by industry