Many top 2020 Democrat presidential candidates have railed against America’s largest technology companies to garner populist support, but most of these top Democrats have also solicited donations from the very tech companies they have critizsed.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg hosted four presidential campaign fundraisers in greater San Francisco, California, which included co-hosts with a former Facebook executive and Google official. This past weekend was at least Buttigieg’s third fundraising trip to Silicon Valley.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is on the way to making his fourth trip to Silicon Valley to raise money since declaring his candidacy for president in February.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), California’s freshman senator, recently finished her sixth tour fundraising across Silicon Valley.
The New York Times said that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Buttigieg, and Harris have been three of the most aggressive candidates seeking Silicon Valley cash.
All three, particularly Booker and Harris, have had Silicon Valley ties. Booker attended Stanford and once was an investor in an Internet start-up. The New Jersey Democrat also worked with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg when the social media chief donated $100 million to renew Newark, New Jersey, schools.
Harris raised the most of any 2020 candidate in the first quarter of 2019 from employees of companies in the Internet Association, a lobbying and industry association of the tech industry in Washington, D.C.
The Democrats’ fundraising from America’s largest tech companies raises questions over their authentici, as many Americans have become increasingly skeptical of their power and influence over the Internet and the technology industry.
Democrats’ fundraising off of Silicon Valley strikes a harsh contrast, as the House Judiciary Committee announced a “top-to-bottom” investigation of America’s largest tech companies.
The House Judiciary Committee’s investigation of big tech followed as the Donald Trump Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it will investigate Google for potential antitrust violations, and the Federal Trade Commission has started asking Amazon’s rivals about its business practices.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declared on Monday that the big tech “era of self-regulation is over,” even though she received nearly $43,000 in total donations during the 2018 midterm cycle from employees and political action committees (PACs) of the Big Tech companies, each of which ranks among her top sources of campaign cash. Pelosi has typically served as a champion of Big Tech companies.
In contrast to Harris, Booker, and Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) posed in front of a San Francisco, California, billboard over the weekend calling for breaking up big tech.
Breitbart News reported that these corporations have amassed a lobbying “army” amid greater calls for antitrust investigations and breaking up these large companies.
Many progressives have begun to sour on the Silicon Valley. In many ways their power and influence mirrors other large and influential industries such as Wall Street, the automobile industry, and the defense industry.
Rebecca Katz, a Democrat strategist on the progressive side of the party, said it will remain difficult for many Democrat candidates to appear tough on big tech while taking their donations at the same time. Katz has called on political consultants to stop representing corporate clients.
“Many of the candidates are trying to have it both ways,” Katz said. The Democrat strategist cautioned that “It will be hard to be taken seriously as strong on this issue when you’re taking money hand over fist from Big Tech.”
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Harris all attended campaign fundraising events in Silicon Valley last Friday, while Booker traveled to Seattle, Washington, to raise money from Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist and early Amazon investor.
Buttigieg attended an event on Saturday hosted by Chris Cox, Facebook’s former chief product officer.
Sen. Booker even attended an event on Sunday with Jeff Jordan, a tech investor who had previously served as president for PayPal and OpenTable.
While former Vice President Joe Biden did not attend any Silicon Valley fundraisers over the weekend, his finance team reportedly will plan a Silicon Valley fundraising campaign near the end of June. In May, Biden hosted a fundraiser with Eric Schmidt, the former Google chief executive, who previously served as a campaign adviser for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In contrast to Katz, Mark Longabaugh, a Democrat strategist who helped Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 2016 campaign, said that many people still view America’s largest tech companies “in a favorable light,” even though many have shifted towards a more negative light.
“They do not see these companies like Big Oil and the pharmaceutical companies,” Longabaugh said. “There’s a distinction there.”
Despite these candidates’ collection of Silicon Valley cash, many of them have echoed populist rhetoric from Democrats such as Warren, who have called for breaking up big tech.
Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Market Institute, said that some candidates lap more praise on Silicon Valley compared to others.
“Buttigieg and Harris treat them like they’re special,” Stoller said. “Warren treats them as they’re just citizens. Booker goes back and forth.”