Rank and file slightly favor Republicans
The country’s computer and Internet elite have given generously to the Democratic Party, outpacing Republican givers in the high-tech industry more than 2-to-1.
However, rank-and-file high-tech employees have slightly favored the GOP with their campaign cash, according to a survey by The Washington Times of contributions from 200 companies in 1999 and through February of this year.
“I think the Democrats have a better handle on the network for the tech folks who’s involved, who the high-tech people are,” said Tony Raymond, co-founder of FECInfo, an Internet Web site that tracks campaign contributions and industry trends through voluminous Federal Election Commission reports.
“There was the Western fund-raising swing last year by Democrats and Republicans. Silicon Valley has a lot of millionaires. They targeted the fund raising early in those areas for the tech groups. The executives of those companies were easy to get together,” Mr. Raymond said.
Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., the country’s leading software developer, was a main target and by February had produced more than 840 separate contributions to federal candidates for Congress, the presidency and major parties at the national and state levels.
Dozens of Microsoft executives ponied up a total of more than $1 million. Despite the antitrust suit lodged against the firm by the Clinton administration’s Justice Department, most of those contributions went to the Democratic National Committee and Democratic House and Senate candidates.
Peter R. Amstein, Microsoft’s chief software developer, gave $112,500 to the Democrats, their second biggest political donation by a member of the computer elite. At least eight other Microsoft executives gave more than $10,000 each to Democratic campaign committees and candidates.
Microsoft engineer George A. Spix gave $117,000 to Republicans, but only one other Microsoft executive, William J. Sample, gave more than $10,000 to the GOP.
The computer world’s top political donor was Tim R. Gill of Denver, founder of a competing firm that created the highly popular QuarkXPress professional graphics software program used by newspapers, magazines and advertising companies. He donated $251,000 to the Democrats.
Although courted by both parties, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s billionaire founder, gave only $1,500 to Sen. Slade Gorton, Washington Republican, and $5,000 to Microsoft’s employee-funded political action committee.
By the end of February, Democratic House and Senate candidates had received $320,550 from Microsoft’s 25 top givers, while Republicans received $157,580 less than half as much.
However, Microsoft’s PAC only slightly favored Democratic House and Senate candidates, giving them $140,000 compared with $138,499 for Republicans.
The Times survey showed a similar pattern across the high-tech industry. Executives from five other leading Internet companies America Online, Netscape, Yahoo, Lycos and Excite have favored the Democratic Party and its candidates with millions of dollars in campaign donations, as have those from leading computer and software giants Dell, Cisco, Apple, Nextel, Vulcan Northwest, Adobe and Intuit.
But rank-and-file employees and employee-funded PACs at those companies, where they exist, have been more even-handed with their donations, and sometimes favor Republicans.
A recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics showed that Microsoft employees have individually donated more than $727,000 to candidates, with 53 percent going to Republicans and 47 percent going to Democrats.
PACs at Microsoft and America Online so far both distributed donations almost 50-50 to each party. The Microsoft PAC distributed $278,499 of $697,100 on hand. AOL’s PAC distributed $39,500 of $103,750 donated by employees.
The PACs are controlled by the company lobbyists in Washington, Mr. Raymond said. “Everyone is hedging their bets right now.”
The analyst said he believes the disparity in campaign giving between high-tech executives and employee PACs may reflect a larger disconnect between people in the nation’s capital and the country at large. “The D.C. lobbying office might not be as well connected with their executives who are their bosses.”
Sun Microsystems’ PAC, which distributed $12,700 of $55,474 on hand, gave 73 percent to House Democratic candidates and 27 percent to Republicans; Senate Republican candidates got 71 percent to 29 percent for Democrats. Oracle Corp.’s PAC, with $18,000 on hand, gave $12,000 to Republicans and $4,500 to Democrats running for the House and Senate.
The Internet trading Web site EBay gave $5,000 to Democratic candidates and none to Republicans. The PAC raised $50,000. Printer giant Hewlett-Packard, whose PAC collected $26,100, has made no contributions so far in this election cycle.
“People in Washington who control those PACs think now is not the time to give,” Mr. Raymond said. “The executives, more likely to meet and greet, are ready to give.”