Pando

Beyond Thiel: Google, Microsoft, and the other big tech firms funding ultraconservative Ted Cruz

By David Holmes , written on March 31, 2015

From The News Desk

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is a grown man who wants to abolish the IRS. He also thinks birth control "induces abortions" and plays to his party's ugliest impulses when it comes to same-sex marriage, climate change, and countries where lots of Muslims live.

Last Monday, the Tea Party's prize pig became the first candidate to formally announce a bid for the 2016 Presidential election. And among the think-pieces and works of sheer demagoguery that flowed through the Internet's backbone all week, one headline in particular caught our tech-damaged eye: Breitbart's "The Silicon Valley Libertarians Putting Serious Money Behind Ted Cruz."

The synergy between Silicon Valley and the Tea Party is frequently trumpeted by bloggers and talking heads on the Far Right. But this supposed alignment is far from perfect. The narrative that the GOP will find in techie libertarians its saving grace obscures a couple key realities about Silicon Valley's political DNA. The first is that, despite the preponderance of high-profile techno-libertarians like Peter Thiel, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and eBay chairman Pierre Omidyar, the money funneled into politics from Silicon Valley firms' political action committees is fairly balanced between Democratic and Republican candidates. During the 2012 Presidential race in particular, the tech set came out overwhelmingly in favor of Barack Obama.

But the second reality this narrative ignores is that it's not just the outspoken fringe libertarians like Thiel that give to Tea Party candidates. Some of the biggest and most mainstream firms in Silicon Valley like Microsoft and Google, despite also supporting traditional liberal causes, have aligned themselves with libertarian anti-tax interests -- and these same interests often represent some of the ugliest sides of American politics.

While Breitbart is known to engage in the same fact-challenged Republican agitprop made famous by Fox News and Nixon, the central argument of its article is true: Paypal cofounder, early Facebook investor, and the Valley's most vocal and visible libertarian gadfly Peter Thiel has indeed given $2 million to a Super PAC run by the conservative anti-tax group Club For Growth, which in turn was Ted Cruz's biggest single donor during the 2012 campaign, giving $705,657. Club for Growth was also the single biggest contributor to the successful Senatorial campaign of Tom Cotton, the darlingest of Tea Party darlings who made his name writing a borderline unconstitutional letter undermining Obama's negotiations with Iran.

(There's no unjarring time to disclose that Thiel is also a minor investor in Pando, through Founders Fund, so let's do it here.)

Beyond Thiel, however, Breitbart only identified one other Silicon Valley libertarian, ex-Facebook employee Chamath Palihapitiya -- who left no question about his libertarian bonafides during an episode of This Week in Startups -- as a major Cruz donor, writing the Texas Senator a check for $5,000.

What the piece failed to mention was that it's not just libertarians like Thiel who contributed to Cruz's campaign, but also the political action committees or PACs belonging to some of Silicon Valley's most prominent firms.

For instance, Microsoft's PAC gave $10,000 to Cruz during the 2012 electoral cycle, Google's PAC gave $10,000, and Facebook's PAC gave $3,500. Other top lobbying spenders in tech, like Comcast and Intel, gave Cruz $7,500 and $2,000, respectively.

And that's only the beginning when it comes to big tech companies contributing to candidates that oppose same-sex marriage or engage in climate change denial -- in fact, it's difficult to contribute to any Republican candidate without that politician also taking up these stances, which run counter to the ideals of inclusivity and sustainability that classic Silicon Valley firms promote.

Granted, those check amounts are minuscule relative to the annual revenues and market caps of these companies. And they constitute mere fractions of the millions companies like Google spend each year on lobbying, which is spread out across causes and candidates from all over the political spectrum. Nor is it true that Republican candidates are the only recipients of tech money with problematic platforms or records. Big tech also put its muscle behind the failed Congressional campaign of Democrat Ro Khanna, about whom Pando's Yasha Levine found little to love.

But it's hugely hypocritical to see Silicon Valley unite in outrage over Indiana's anti-gay rights law then turn around and donate to candidates who voted in favor of a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. It's equally hypocritical to watch one tech giant after another abandon the controversial ultraconservative think tank ALEC over climate change denial, while also contributing to some of Congress' most notorious deniers. And yes, the dollar amounts of the donations are small. But if tech firms ceased funding these candidates with the same fervor they've adopted in condemning Indiana's new law, it could compel some GOP politicians to break with their party on increasingly untenable and extremist stances. For better or worse, money talks.

As was the case with Big Tech's long-time ties with ALEC -- ties which, for most firms, were only recently severed -- aligning oneself with a candidate like Cruz means aligning with notions that on occasion transcend mere political disagreement into the realm of irrationality and hate-speech. Cruz is no friend to gay rights, and his anti-science bent infects a number of his positions, from reproductive rights to climate change.

It's understandable why, in a country where wealth and political influence are so deeply intertwined, Big Tech would want the most influence money can buy. But Silicon Valley was supposed to represent a new kind of capitalism, where firms add more value to consumers and ecosystems than they take out; where openness and inclusiveness were supposed to be hardwired into the products these companies sell and the corporate cultures they foster; where problems are met head-on with the rigor of the scientific method.

Maybe that dream died a long time ago. Nevertheless, when these companies come out in support of politicians who are against science, against inclusivity, and against sustainability, they threaten to alienate the communities and consumers they serve, while enabling candidates to embrace hateful or willfully ignorant policies.

[photo by Gage Skidmore]