Democratic Contenders Rake in Cash From Tech Antitrust Targets

Date : 06/07/2019 @ 7:08PM
Source : Dow Jones News
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Democratic Contenders Rake in Cash From Tech Antitrust Targets

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By Ted Mann, Chad Day and Julie Bykowicz 

No other candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination has been as eager to call for the breakup of Google as Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Yet employees at Google and its parent company, Alphabet Inc., so far have made up the largest source of higher-dollar donations to the Massachusetts senator's campaign.

The most recent presidential campaign filings show that Ms. Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders -- who has called for ramping up antitrust enforcement and taking on the big tech companies -- have each attracted large amounts of contributions from people connected to Google and other tech companies.

The relationships between Big Tech and Washington decision makers are drawing renewed attention as the companies prepare for increased antitrust scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Justice Department has assumed antitrust oversight for Google and Apple Inc., while the Federal Trade Commission will focus on Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. Congress is also getting involved, with the House Judiciary Committee set to investigate competition in digital markets.

The Democratic money race is in its infancy, and some major players, including former Vice President Joe Biden, have yet to file their first financial reports. But the early numbers on itemized contributions (some candidates only itemize contributions above $200 and some choose to itemize all contributions) highlight a paradox in Democratic fundraising: Some of the people who have benefited the most from the booming Silicon Valley economy are fueling the campaigns of candidates most committed to checking its growth.

Presidential filings from the first quarter of the year show that Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren each received roughly $30,000 in higher-dollar contributions from individuals affiliated with Alphabet Inc., Google, Microsoft Corp., Apple and Amazon. These companies were among the top 10 employers of such donors to Mr. Sanders's campaign, federal filings through the end of March show. In addition to Google employees, people who work at Yelp Inc. and Apple were among Ms. Warren's top 10 sources of contributions greater than $200 in the early days of the campaign.

To track the political money flowing from people connected to big tech companies, The Wall Street Journal reviewed the employers listed by contributors whose donations were itemized on Federal Election Commission filings.

The filings don't reflect direct contributions by corporations, which are barred by federal law. They also don't capture the full details of every donation to the candidates; Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders and other candidates have received much larger amounts of money from small-dollar donors who don't have to report their occupations or employers.

Still, the data analyzed by the Journal shed light on an important donor base for Democratic campaigns and show how voters' attitudes don't always coincide with their employer's interests.

Ms. Warren has sounded the alarm about the economic clout of major tech firms, leading a call for antitrust action against companies like Facebook and Amazon that increasingly has been echoed by other candidates for the party nomination.

Last weekend her campaign plastered her image with the phrase "break up big tech" on a billboard outside a San Francisco rail station frequented by Silicon Valley commuters. She has included the call to break up "Big Tech" in numerous fundraising emails and ads including on Facebook itself.

Ms. Warren's criticism of the tech firms' economic power has even inspired some of their employees to support her.

One software engineer at a major tech firm who has given her presidential campaign more than $1,000 said her approach of "managed capitalism" appeals to him. "She wants to make markets work," he said, though he noted he had mixed feelings about breaking up big technology firms. He didn't want to be identified for fear of blowback from his employer.

Other Democrats have expressed similar views, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Mr. Biden, who told the Associated Press in May that breaking up Facebook is "something we should take a really hard look at."

Such rhetoric hasn't stopped Mr. Biden from leaning on big tech companies for financial support. Just days before Mr. Biden made his remarks, he attended a Los Angeles fundraiser co-hosted by Eric Schmidt, the former Alphabet chairman. Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren aren't holding traditional high-dollar fundraisers, their campaigns say.

Ms. Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney, disclosed 15 San Francisco-based "bundlers" who raised at least $25,000 for her presidential campaign. The group includes Stephen Davis and Marc Stad, whose firms have invested in technology companies.

Ms. Harris is one of the few presidential candidates disclosing her bundlers, making it difficult to assess whether her rivals are similarly calling on well-connected tech industry leaders for campaign help.

No candidate appears to have targeted the Bay Area in search of 2020 presidential campaign cash like Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind. He hopscotched among numerous fundraisers in the area on May 10, including one attended by more than 1,000 small donors packed into an at-capacity ballroom in San Francisco. He returned to the San Francisco fundraising circuit just last weekend; one event included Chris Cox, the former chief product officer for Facebook.

A college acquaintance of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Buttigieg, like some of his rivals, has called for modernizing antitrust enforcement to account for the scale and structure of major tech firms, without calling explicitly for any of the existing firms to be broken up.

Silicon Valley's most powerful companies' corporate political committees, executives and employees have been a major source of the Democratic Party's fundraising strength since the Obama years.

Despite the recent leftward economic tilt of the party, there is no sign yet of the major tech firms abandoning Democrats to support President Trump, who has carried on his own battles with major tech firms, especially Amazon. None of the 20 largest sources of money to Mr. Trump's reelection campaign come from the tech sector, according to analysis of itemized donations by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.

Not everyone in the field has raced as far out as Ms. Warren in urging federal action to blunt the power of major tech firms. Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke received major support from tech firms in his unsuccessful campaign against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. Employees at Facebook, Google and Amazon gave more to Mr. O'Rourke than to any other federal candidate in the 2018 cycle, the Center for Responsive Politics found. Mr. Cruz has been an outspoken critic of tech companies.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. O'Rourke has carved out a middle path, calling for better regulation of tech firms, not a breakup. Federal filings show he has still received donations from employees of tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Cisco Systems Inc. but they have not made up as large a share of his financial support so far.

In 2014, Facebook employees donated the most money to Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) out of any candidate, according to the center's analysis of itemized political contributions. His campaign was the second most popular for Google employee donations that year, the center's data show, trailing only Democratic California Rep. Ro Khanna's campaign.

As a presidential candidate this year, Mr. Booker has also called for a more restrained approach to confronting Google, Facebook and Amazon. Mr. Booker has responded to calls for breaking up the firms by emphasizing the need for due process, saying candidates shouldn't rush to conclusions about whether to dismantle the firms.

--Brody Mullins and Emily Glazer contributed to this article.

Write to Ted Mann at ted.mann@wsj.com and Julie Bykowicz at julie.bykowicz@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 07, 2019 13:53 ET (17:53 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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