Silicon Valley is a famous place on the left. Technologists are known to spend their wealth advancing gender equality or eradicate homeless, sometimes even by proposing higher taxes on the richest—that is to say themselves. These generous allowances emerged more recently in the form of support for California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is currently being recalled in September. special election. Unsurprisingly, Newsom has received donations from an elite circle of tech luminaries, including Marissa Mayer and Eric Schmidt. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated $ 3 million to the Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom committee. The California Democratic Party, by comparison, has so far contributed $ 2.15 million.
While donations from the tech and media industries strongly oppose the recall effort – $ 5.6 million to $ 233,000, according to Cal Matters– a small group of loud technocrats are trying to oust Newsom and protest a different kind of California. Some, like Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, are well-known Republicans, but others have supported more progressive politics and even donated to Newsom’s 2018 campaign. Now they see his politics as the enemy of a thriving tech industry.
Venture capitalist and former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya recently described California as an “inhospitable culture for innovation”, due to high income taxes and the government’s heavy hand in regulating business. Palihapitiya, who has previously backed Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, sent $ 100,000 to Rescue California, one of the main groups behind the recall. (He also created a website, at chamathforca.com, detailing his political agenda, but made it clear that he was not actually in the running to replace Newsom. “Let’s be really honest,” he said on his podcast, “I’m not ready to do all of this.”) Venture capitalist David Sacks, who backed Newsom in his 2018 bid, also donated money to Rescue California. Twitter, he pointed to Newsom’s “utter failure – on closures, schools, crime, homelessness, fires” as the reason for his inverted stance. (Neither Palihapitiya nor Sacks responded to WIRED’s emails.)
While Palihapitiya and Sacks may seem like outliers in Silicon Valley’s Burning Man-esque philosophy, their views are fairly representative of a larger group. In 2017, researchers from Stanford studied the political attitudes of the tech elite and found them “completely different from any other group.” Neil Malhotra, who led the research, says wealthy entrepreneurs tend to be progressive and cosmopolitan, advancing issues like same-sex marriage, gun control, and free trade. They also tend to support economic redistribution and favor social services. Where techs stand out is their deep loathing for government regulations, especially when it comes to work. Although they lean to the left in many ways, Malhotra says the technocrats are not liberals, but rather “Liberal-Tarians”.
For decades, tech CEOs were staunch Republicans – “of the fiscally conservative and socially liberal variety that no longer really exists,” Margaret O’Mara, political historian and author of The Code: Silicon Valley and America’s Remake, wrote in an e-mail. But since the Clinton era, most technologists have allied themselves with Democrats, who have played nicely with the industry. A smaller group has remained more resolutely libertarian.
“The Valley has always been impatient with politics, as usual, but its leaders – and the donor class – are generally split into two camps,” says O’Mara. In the former camp, those who think “government is necessary and just needs to be improved through Silicon Valley-style innovation” are more likely to line up with Democrats. In camp two, those who want the government to stay out of business are lining up more with Republicans. In the past, these camps have sometimes fallen out or behaved according to their own rules. Peter Thiel, one of the Valley’s most famous libertarians, donated $ 57,400 to Newsom’s 2019 campaign. (The founder of PayPal has since moved to Miami.)