Sen. Kamala Harris has had a close relationship with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The California senator has glad-handed with tech elites for decades.
For months, Silicon Valley hasn’t been quite sure what to make of former Vice President Joe Biden.
But Sen. Kamala Harris? That’s a candidate the industry can get behind.
Biden’s selection of Harris — who has glad-handed with San Francisco elites for decades — as his choice for vice president is likely to usher in Silicon Valley excitement and money galore in a way that other running mates would not. For a top-of-the-ticket that has struggled until recently to excite the wealthiest and most powerful tech moguls, Harris will bring superfans from the billionaire class that will supercharge Democrats’ coffers, even though it makes Biden more dependent on these big donors.
On policy, the selection of the California senator offers some reassurance to the tech industry that has nervously watched the rise of the party’s far left. Biden has not made tech issues a priority during the campaign, which has created uncertainty about how seriously his administration would pursue regulation or even a breakup of tech giants. With Harris — a policy pragmatist who enjoys close relationships with many leading tech executives — Biden sends another signal that his administration will not veer toward the policies pushed by those like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a vice-presidential shortlister who wants to break up Big Tech.
Cooper Teboe, a top Democratic fundraiser in Silicon Valley, said about one-third of major West Coast donors that he’s spoken to have been waiting to see who Biden would choose as vice president before deciding whether to invest tens of thousands of dollars into Democrats this cycle. If Biden had chosen Warren, for instance, tech donors might have had concerns.
“She is the safest pick for the donor community,” Teboe said of Harris. “She will be the pick that the California, Silicon Valley donor community — who are worried about things like tech and repatriation and taxes and so on and so forth — she is the pick that they will be happiest with.”
Harris’s ties to this power set will be highlighted in just a few days when she headlines a high-dollar fundraiser with a Bay Area fundraising group, Electing Women Bay Area, according to an invitation seen by Recode.
Harris’s special touch with the ultra-rich has been integral to her political ascent in San Francisco, where she first served as district attorney before her statewide wins as attorney general and then US senator. Harris was a regular presence on the city’s cocktail circuit and has been profiled in society pages ever since her 30s. Her campaigns were funded by the old-money families that predated the modern tech boom.
When that boom did arrive, Harris capitalized and built an orbit of new-money fans that she will further bring into the Biden fold. Her biggest donors over the last two decades read like a who’s who list of tech moguls: Salesforce founder Marc Benioff has told Recode that Harris is “one of the highest integrity people I have ever met.” Early Facebook president Sean Parker invited Harris to his wedding. Fundraisers for her presidential bid included billionaire Democratic power brokers like Reid Hoffman and John Doerr.
Chris Lehane, a longtime adviser to Bay Area donors, recalled Harris as a “workhorse” when it came to making fundraising calls during her first run for California attorney general in 2009.
“She’d work the whole list,” he said, “and then ask for more names.”
One particularly close bond for Harris has been with Democratic mega-donor Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire philanthropist and wife of the late Steve Jobs. When Powell Jobs was invited to speak at the annual Code Conference in 2017, she brought Harris along with her.
“I thought you would find it more interesting” than having just herself, Powell Jobs remarked onstage. On Tuesday, she tweeted that Biden had “made a great choice!”
But all these ties will prove double-edged in a Democratic Party that has grown concerned about the wealth accumulated by these billionaires and their political influence. The same goes for their tech companies, which are now the subject of antitrust scrutiny and a broader rethink of Silicon Valley’s corporate power.
Roger McNamee, a Silicon Valley investor who has expressed concerns about Biden listening too much to tech billionaires, said Harris could pull off a “Nixon-to-China moment.” In other words, only someone like her could push through certain regulations because of her credibility with the tech community.
“As senator from California, Kamala Harris was understandably aligned with Big Tech,” said McNamee. “As vice president, she has an opportunity to stand up for all Americans.”
Some activists are concerned that her personal ties to tech companies will temper serious regulations. Harris’s campaign manager for her first race for district attorney, for example, now runs the California state policy shop at Google. And Tony West, her brother-in-law, is the general counsel of Uber, where her niece worked until recently.
Harris also has connections at Facebook, a company at the burning core of Democrats’ ire these days. She has enjoyed a particularly cozy relationship with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg over the years, helping Sandberg market her book Lean In. Sandberg also sent her a congratulatory note when she won her Senate seat in 2016, as the HuffPost detailed.
Sandberg hadn’t publicly said anything of significance about Biden this cycle. But then on Tuesday, she took to Instagram to note the historic selection of Harris as the first Black woman on a major party ticket (although the longtime Democrat didn’t explicitly endorse Biden-Harris).
All of this leaves people wondering if Harris will be tough — or easy — on companies like Facebook if she becomes vice president.
Harris strongly pressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg when he appeared before Congress. But she has equivocated when asked during her own presidential bid how she would handle antitrust matters. She has also consistently dodged when asked point-blank whether tech giants should be broken up, only saying that “we have to seriously take a look at that.”
“The tech companies have got to be regulated in a way that we can ensure and the American consumer can be certain that their privacy is not being compromised,” she told the New York Times.
She also tried at one point to get tough on Twitter, calling on founder Jack Dorsey to ban President Trump from the platform. That didn’t go anywhere — and Harris dropped out thereafter.
Now, she has another shot at reining in Silicon Valley, if she wants to take it.
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