The technology industry has steadily expanded its role in the electoral process over the past decade, from building social networks where candidates disseminate messages to spearheading nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts. But its role as a fundraising juggernaut, almost exclusively for liberal politicians, may have hit a fever pitch this election cycle.
The most striking contribution came last month when Dustin Moskovitz, a tech billionaire and Facebook co-founder, pledged $20 million to political groups that support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Moskovitz discussed the contribution with CNBC over the weekend, reiterating that he and his wife, Cari Tuna, were compelled to donate after the Republican Party officially chose Donald Trump as its presidential nominee.
“I think it’s apparent to every American that this is a very special election. The stakes are extremely high,” Moskovitz told CNBC. “As we were watching things play out with the Republican Party in terms of their nominee and the type of rhetoric they were using, particularly at the [Republican National Convention], we just felt really compelled to get off the sidelines and help ensure that the Democrats were able to win the election.”
Moskovitz’s contribution made headlines in part because he is a relative novice to political donations, with campaign records showing that he has given to campaigns just once before 2016. Despite his wealth and connections, Moskovitz is also not particularly well known beyond industry circles. He certainly has less name recognition than Mark Zuckerberg, his fellow Facebook co-founder and former college roommate.
Nevertheless, the donation catapults Moskovitz and Tuna into the upper echelons of political contributors this election cycle, a list that includes fellow billionaires and longtime influencers Sheldon Adelson, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros and Silicon Valley hedge fund manager Thomas Steyer. Assuming the full $20 million is donated before the election, Moskovitz and Tuna would rank among the top 10 individual contributors this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Moskovitz and Tuna did not respond to requests for comment.
Moskovitz amassed his wealth as one of four Harvard University undergrads who, in 2004, created the primitive version of what was then called “The Facebook.” He stayed with the social network through November 2008, according to LinkedIn. When he left, Facebook had just launched its first iPhone app and added the Newsfeed, but it had yet to formally introduce the “like” button. It had only a fraction of today’s 1.71 billion active monthly users.
He then started Asana with fellow Facebook employee Justin Rosenstein. The company makes business software that helps teams communicate and track progress on work projects. Asana has raised $88.2 million from venture capital investors, including $50 million in March, according to Crunchbase, an online database that tracks venture deals.
Proof of Moskovitz’s connections in the Valley can be found in Asana’s list of financial backers, which includes some of the region’s biggest venture capitalists and company executives. Among them are Marc Andreessen and Sean Parker, both of whom also funded Facebook, as well as author and entrepreneur Eric Ries, Zappos chief executive Tony Hsieh and Zuckerberg.
For her part, Tuna is a former journalist who runs the couple’s philanthropic efforts. To that end, she serves as president of their foundation, Good Ventures, which has given money to causes such as animal welfare, scientific research, criminal justice reform. The duo signed a pledge to give away a large chunk of their fortune to charity in 2010, becoming the youngest billionaires to do so, and their efforts to select worthy charitable causes were profiled in The Washington Post in 2014.
And now their recent political donations have drawn attention. Moskovitz and Tuna wrote in a blog post on the website Medium in September that political donations were not initially part of their philanthropic plan. But they cast the race between Trump and Clinton as more than a decision of politics, but one that has “become a referendum on who we want to be — as individuals, as a nation and as a society.” The post read more as an admonishment of Trump and his policies, particularly on immigration, than an unbridled endorsement of Clinton, but they commended the Democratic candidate for a “vision of optimism, pragmatism, inclusiveness and mutual benefit.”
The pair also expressed reluctance at using their wealth to influence the democratic process.
“This decision was not easy, particularly because we have reservations about anyone using large amounts of money to influence elections. That said, we believe in trying to do as much good as we can, which in this case means using the tools available to us (as they are also available to the opposition),” Moskovitz and Tuna wrote.
Silicon Valley’s increased influence in the political process has not come without scrutiny. Some efforts are innocuous. Google and Facebook, for example, have made efforts to encourage voter registration and promote turnout on Election Day. Other tech firms are going so far as to give their employees the day off work.
But not all activities are so nonpartisan. It’s no secret that Silicon Valley leans far left. Its epicenter is the liberal bastion of San Francisco, where President Obama won both his presidential bids by more than 80 percent. Wealthy tech executives were big donors to Obama’s campaigns, and they have shown similar financial support for Clinton.
A revolving door between the Obama administration and Silicon Valley has emerged over the past eight years, with top administration officials, including former chief information officer Vivek Kundra, senior adviser David Plouffe and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., decamping for jobs at the likes of Salesforce, Uber and Airbnb, respectively.
The cozy and lucrative relationship between tech industry titans and liberal politicians has raised questions about bias, particularly at firms that increasingly control the flow of information through digital channels. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday about a debate within Facebook as to whether some of Trump’s posts should be classified as hate speech and removed from the site. Zuckerberg determined in December that Trump’s words should not be censored.
The Valley’s political alignment is perhaps most evident in that there are comparatively few vocal Republicans, especially Republicans who openly support Trump. Virtually alone in that category is billionaire investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who spoke at the RNC and recently donated $1.25 million to Trump’s campaign.
Thiel is also an investor in Moskovitz’s company.
Read more from The Washington Post’s Innovations section.