President Obama's meeting Tuesday with 15 high-tech executives underscores both the White House's ties to Silicon Valley -- and the cracks that have emerged in that alliance.
There is no question that high-tech firms have played a key role in boosting Obama's political fortunes. Computer and Internet companies pumped nearly $7.8 million into his campaign last cycle, more than double what Republican challenger Mitt Romney collected from those industries, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization.
And the president can continued to tap into that reservoir of wealth to support the Democratic Party even now that he's not up for reelection. Just last month, he hit San Francisco and Seattle during a West Coast fundraising swing.
A couple of the top officials meeting with the president Tuesday served as bundlers for his 2012 bid: Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer raised between $100,000 and $200,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while Shervin Pishevar, co-founder and co-CEO of Sherpa Global, raised more than $500,000. And Mark Pincus, Zynga's chief product officer and chairman, gave $1 million to Priorities Action USA, the super PAC affiliated with Obama.
More broadly, the employees of the 15 companies represented at the meeting and their families gave an average of $356,000 per company to Obama, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
But despite that outpouring of funds -- and recent offers of help, like Salesforce.com chairman and chief executive Marc Benioff's suggestion his company could build a new health-care Web site and run it for free for five years -- enthusiasm for the administration in Silicon Valley has cooled in the past year.
Members of the high tech community have been dismayed at Obama's support for a military strike in Syria and by revelations about the National Security Agency’s vast data-gathering operations, according to party fundraisers. The bungled launch of the health insurance Web site further exasperated liberal donors in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“The problem has been the domino effect: first Syria, then NSA, then HealthCare.gov,” said one major Democratic fundraiser told The Post last month.
And while the president was eager to discuss HealthCare.gov and federal IT contracting with attendees, according to White House officials, they were much more focused on pressing for changes in the government's surveillance program. One indication of this disconnect: while the White House issued a background statement on the session that emphasized the Web site and federal contracting matters, the firms issued a one-sentence statement: "We appreciated the opportunity to share directly with the President our principles on government surveillance that we released last week and we urge him to move aggressively on reform."
In other words, how this ongoing conversation on surveillance plays out in the months ahead will determine whether Silicon Valley remains firmly in the president's camp, or whether the strains in that relationship grow a little bit wider.