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The techies are jumping into the super PAC game … to fight super PACs


Lawrence Lessig (Photo via Joi Ito)

Technology entrepreneurs and activists are splashing their cash into politics. Mayday, a "crowd-funded" super PAC founded to “reduce the influence of money in politics,” has filed its campaign returns for the last quarter, with a headline figure of $3.3 million in donations through  the end of June.

As we reported last month, it appears half of Mayday's money was raised online and the rest was matched by wealthy entrepreneursA surge of additional online fundingalong with matches from wealthy donors, has brought its total haul to $12 million, the super PAC has said.

The top donors for this period were:

  1. Chris Anderson, the curator of TED Conferences, and Vincent Ryan, the Boston billionaire behind Schooner Capital, each donated $250,000
  2. Peter Thiel, the libertarian co-founder of PayPal, and the co-founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman both donated $150,000
  3. Bradford R. Burnham, founder of the New York venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, who invested in Twitter and Tumblr, has given $100,000
  4. Shawn Byers, who describes herself as a home maker, has donated $50,000
  5. Jeffrey Roberts of Washington-based software developer RAD Game Tools has given $25,000

Although some of the Mayday donors have pursued their own political causes in the past — for example, Thiel has given money toRon Paul and is rumored to be in assisting his son Rand — the Mayday PAC appears to have captured the imaginations of tech folk.

As with all FEC filings, donors to Mayday must name their employers. Self-employed donors make up the biggest bulk of those who gave money  -- $252,410 in total -- while Schooner Capital, TED, LinkedIn and PayPal make up the largest employers thanks to the significant individual donations. Interestingly, those who said they were “not employed” managed to round up $191,587.

Employees of Google donated a total of $131,087 to Mayday, making them an exception to some of the more established Silicon Valley firms, who generally did not donate much to the effort. For example, 23 Apple employees gave $11,250, a dozen people employed by Microsoft gave $3,650 while two Adobe employees gave $1,250. Even the relative newcomers Facebook and Twitter haven't given huge amounts -- $8,548 and $6,300 were given to the PAC by their employees respectively.

Given that Mayday was co-founded by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, it’s unsurprising that academic institutions feature prominently on the list. Including employees of the business and law schools, Harvard gave $38,367. Employees of Stanford, the university most closely associated with the tech industry, gave $1,200 from four donors to Mayday.

Now that Mayday has reached its self-prescribed target of $5 million, it faces the tricky task of finding effective ways of spending its war chest. After all, it has a very clear commitment to fill to its thousands of supporters.

Sebastian Payne is a national reporter with The Washington Post. He is the Post’s 35th Laurence Stern fellow.

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