Prior to the 2016 race, these 15 people together had donated about $7 million in total federal contributions. Over the last two years alone? That figure is over $120 million. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
These tech titans have spent $120 million over the last two years, leading Silicon Valley’s political awakening.
Donald Trump has poked the bears that are Silicon Valley billionaires.
Over the last four years, the tech industry’s very richest have gotten far more political than they have ever been, channeling their money and energy into the world of partisan campaigning. They’ve hired full-time political aides to manage their investments. They’ve traded notes and organized to pool their money for maximum impact. And they’ve become vocal public critics of the president, so incensed by the Trump presidency that they’ve eschewed the longstanding Silicon Valley tradition of staying out of politics.
Some of the biggest Silicon Valley celebrities are indeed staying out of the race, but here are the 15 Democrats of Silicon Valley who are most responsible for the current political awakening. Recode reviewed all public federal campaign contributions this cycle through October 15.
While they are backing different groups, one striking commonality is how little they had donated prior to Trump’s 2016 run. It’s new territory for almost all of them: Prior to then, these 15 people together had donated about $7 million in total federal campaign contributions. Over the last two years? That figure is over $120 million.
Some caveats to this list: Determining who qualifies as “Silicon Valley” is more subjective than you’d think (Does it apply to everyone who physically lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, no matter the industry? What about tech leaders who live in New York or Seattle?) but we focused on people whose money principally comes from founding or investing in tech companies.
This list also doesn’t tally all political donations. It doesn’t include gifts to state or local candidates. And, most importantly, the sums don’t include the tens of millions of dollars — likely even hundreds of millions — that these donors are spending on outside groups that aren’t required to disclose their backers. So Silicon Valley megadonors’ true contributions to ousting Trump are impossible to assess in total, meaning it is also impossible to assess the scale of their influence in American democracy.
That influence could pay off in a Biden administration that will have to wrestle with how aggressively to regulate the tech companies that have helped create these fortunes.
Karla Jurvetson: $27.5 million
The psychiatrist has come out of nowhere over the last four years to be one of the ascendant Democratic megadonors of the Trump era. The former wife of tech mogul Steve Jurvetson, she has focused her donations on gifts to female candidates; she almost single-handedly financed a super PAC that spent big to support Elizabeth Warren’s presidential bid in its final weeks, pumping $15 million into that last-ditch effort. And in a sign of her power, she was the one chosen to host Barack Obama when he made his sole Silicon Valley fundraising trip of the cycle last fall.
Dustin Moskovitz: $25 million
Moskovitz is one of the most thoughtful figures in Silicon Valley in terms of his philanthropy, and his political giving is similar. A founder of Facebook alongside Harvard classmate Mark Zuckerberg, Moskovitz and his political team have scoured the academic literature to try to deduce where megadonors can get the greatest possible “return” on their investments. And his brainy dive into political science research has led him to Future Forward, a super PAC that is focusing on last-minute television ads just before voters head to the polls. Moskovitz has been closely associated with the group for much of the calendar year, and recent reports disclosed that he has put at least $22 million into the little-known group.
Reid Hoffman: $14.1 million
No megadonor has become more controversial in the Democratic Party than Hoffman, the billionaire founder of LinkedIn. Hoffman has been trying to move the Democratic Party into the digital age, and to do so has been willing to fund unorthodox projects that push the envelope in ways that some other Democratic donors find discomfiting. One of the most unusual expenses from Hoffman has been the $4.5 million that he has spent on his own to create anti-Trump memes. He and his aides have also become the port of call for other major tech donors, building a full-scale political operation that has made Hoffman a powerful figure in Silicon Valley politics. Operatives consider getting on Hoffman’s list of recommended groups to be a major coup. In recent weeks, Hoffman has been emailing his network to encourage them to donate to Biden transition efforts, according to messages seen by Recode.
Jeff and Erica Lawson: $8.2 million
Jeff Lawson, the co-founder and CEO of the $45 billion software company Twilio, and his wife, Erica, had only given about $1,000 to federal candidates before the 2016 race. But in a reflection of how Trump has energized Silicon Valley, the Lawsons soon after his election started cutting checks to dozens of Democratic congressional candidates and state parties. This fall, they started really digging deep, including giving $6 million between them to Future Forward.
Connie Ballmer: $7.6 million
Ballmer is of Seattle, but she’s the wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — one of the richest people in the world. Ballmer’s total comes almost entirely from the $7 million she donated to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group started by Mike Bloomberg.
Jeff Skoll: $7.4 million
Like Lawson, Skoll — the first full-time employee at eBay — had never given more than a few thousand bucks before Trump was elected. But this year, the billionaire philanthropist started funneling his fortune into Democratic efforts, including $4.5 million into Senate Majority PAC, the main Democratic super PAC aiming to retake the Senate.
Eric Schmidt: $6 million
Schmidt is the consummate Democratic powerbroker, having helped Google curry favor with the Barack Obama administration back when he was Google’s CEO. So, unlike others on this list, Schmidt is not new to this. He has put millions into groups like Future Forward in addition to hosting fundraisers for the Biden campaign directly. It will be interesting to see what role Schmidt may play in a Biden administration if Biden wins.
Sam Bankman-Fried: $5.6 million
Bankman-Fried is one of the most unusual megadonors of the cycle. A 28-year-old cryptocurrency trader who would often sleep in his office overnight on a bean bag, Bankman-Fried, like Moskovitz, identifies as an “effective altruist.” That means he’s trying to use his money for the greatest possible good — which likely has led him to donate to Future Forward.
Patty Quillin and Reed Hastings: $5.3 million
Hastings, the founder of Netflix, has long been involved in politics — he has been a major funder of education reform efforts, and he helped raise money for Pete Buttigieg during the primary. He and his wife, Quillin, are now funding more than ever, including $2 million to Senate Majority PAC. And that $5.3 million figure doesn’t even include the millions more that the couple is spending this year on California ballot initiatives and local politics, which have long been a political priority for them.
Jessica Livingston: $5 million
Livingston is one of the co-founders of Y Combinator, the iconic Silicon Valley startup accelerator, alongside her husband Paul Graham. And she cut the biggest check by far of her career this fall when she gave $5 million to a group called Tech For Campaigns, which places tech workers inside Democratic campaigns across the country.
Michael Moritz: $3.9 million
Moritz, a legendary venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, had only donated $70,000 in his life to politics before Trump was elected. But since 2016, Moritz has gotten heavily involved with Acronym, a liberal group focused on digital anti-Trump advertising, and he and groups associated with him have donated over $1.5 million to its affiliated super PAC. Moritz has also emailed his associates in Silicon Valley to encourage them to support Acronym. A fun fact: Moritz’s longtime co-leader at Sequoia, Doug Leone, is one of the few big donors from tech to Trump, which should make for some interesting conversations between the two of them.
Ken Duda: $3.7 million
Probably the least well-known person on this list, Duda founded a public software company called Artista. He gave $2 million over the last year to Acronym.
Vinod Khosla: $3.1 million
A billionaire perhaps more widely known for his quixotic campaign to maintain his private access to a Bay Area beach, Khosla has given most of his donations to American Bridge, the leading super PAC that focuses on anti-Trump opposition research.
The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.