As the high-tech sector has grown as an industry, its bankroll of financial contributions to politicians has swollen as well (over $3.8 million so far this year). So it's no surprise that presidential candidates are now flocking to Silicon Valley, or that firms like AOL and eBay are forming their own political action committees to dole out cash. What is surprising is how much of that new high-tech money is going to Republicans.
Historically, Silicon Valley has been reliably Democratic territory. In 1992, for example, Microsoft gave Republicans only 21 percent of its campaign contributions. By the 1998 election cycle, however, the GOP share of Microsoft contributions had grown to 66 percentand so far in 1999, Republicans have captured 54 percent of total computer industry contributions. Microsoft has also donated $331,000 in soft money in 1999, almost all of it to Republicans. "There's the perception that Silicon Valley is Clinton-Gore country," says Holly Bailey, researcher at the Center for Respon-sive Politics. "But Republicans this year have gone after Silicon Valley to make them aware . . . 'We're the party for you.'"
Leading the Republicans' high-tech soft-money grab is Virginia Representative Thomas Davis, head of the Republican National Congressional Committee (RNCC). "For a long time," he recently told The Hill, "the Democrats have had the run of Silicon Valley and even Northern Virginia. . . . You're going to see the money, the candidates, and constituency shift now."
A former info-tech company employee himself, Davis has been instrumental in connecting Republicans with cyber-money. According to Bailey, almost every week Republicans have boarded California-bound planes at Davis's behest to raise money in Silicon Valley. As of July, these efforts had helped the RNCC break the record for fundraising during a nonelection year with $26 million in six months. Davis also organized a high-technology round table of 100 computer executives who each would contribute $10,000 to the GOP. And Davis has spared no effort pushing legislation that leaves no doubt who the computer industry's friends are in Washington. Having sponsored the Year 2000 Readiness and Responsibility Act protecting companies from suits resulting from Y2K problems, he also proposed giving computer companies a $1.7-billion tax break over the next decade. "Representative Davis has been absolutely shameless in his pursuit of computer industry cash," said Ellen Miller, whose organization Public Campaign last month gave the Golden Leash award to Davis for being the top House recipient of computer cash during the 1998 election cycle.