Letter from America

It is a common myth that California’s IT industry is left-leaning, and once again the region is split over who to support in the US presidential elections. Analysts say the IT ‘establishment’ is likely to support Bush, the Republican candidate, on the whole, while entrepreneurs at smaller software and hardware companies will mostly go for Democrat hope John Kerry.

A look at a list of names of IT people who have already signalled their voting intentions is revealing. This election will be the first since new campaign-financing restrictions came into effect, including a $2,000 ceiling on individual contributions, and among those who have given the maximum amount to the Bush re-election campaign are Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers and Intel CEO Craig Barrett.

Among the contributors to the Kerry campaign are executives with some of the region’s ‘cooler’ outfits: people like Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Sybase founder Bob Epstein, E-Loan founder Chris Larsen and Symantec CEO John Thompson.

The IT industry is also giving generously to politicians fighting to get into the Senate and the House of Representatives. According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions, individuals and lobby groups within the computer and Internet sector contributed about $9 million by the end of February 2004. Of that, 54% went to Republicans.

Political analysts have different theories about the reasons for the split in Silicon Valley. For one thing, the almost even support for both parties mirrors the views of the general population.

There are also local factors. Some IT executives, including Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, a major contributor to the Al Gore campaign four years ago, are concerned by what they see as Kerry’s stance against offshore IT outsourcing. (Andreessen now runs Opsware, which provides data centre management tools.) Others are campaigning against Bush because he supports a ban on stem-cell research, which could hit California’s biotech cluster.

It is still far from clear which candidate will triumph, but the IT industry will want to be on the winning side. “Gore’s campaign was humiliating,” E-Loan’s Larsen recently told The New York Times. “Nothing frustrates the Silicon Valley crowd more than losing.”

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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