Valley of Power; like Hollywood, Northern California's Tech Corridor Is a Hot Spot of Politics-And Money. Some Movers and Shakers

By Breslau, Karen | Newsweek, March 29, 2004 | Go to article overview

Valley of Power; like Hollywood, Northern California's Tech Corridor Is a Hot Spot of Politics-And Money. Some Movers and Shakers


Breslau, Karen, Newsweek


Byline: Karen Breslau

The heady days are long gone when silver-haired pols would do anything to rub shoulders (and collect a check) from apple-cheeked millionaires in the backyard of some Palo Alto mansion with no furniture and big speakers. The fortunes these days are far smaller, and the wunderkinder a bit more seasoned. Despite the shrunken portfolios and the inhabitants' lingering reputation for "deep pockets and short arms," Silicon Valley, like Wall Street and Hollywood, has become a key source of campaign cash, ideas and contacts. In 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, techies donated $40 million to individual candidates and political-action committees, a little more than half of that to Democrats.

Like Hollywood, the Valley is home to its share of strong-willed moguls nursing their pet causes. Want a donation from philanthropist and Democratic activist Steve Kirsch, who made his fortune at Infoseek? Not until you deliver a top-10 list of what your goals would be in office. "If a company came to me looking for an investment, I'd ask for a business plan," says Kirsch. "Why should politics be any different?" (Hint to John Kerry: Kirsch is obsessed with finding a way to protect the Earth from asteroids.)

As fortunes have changed, so have the issues and the players. Four years ago star venture capitalist John Doerr was so involved in the Gore campaign that gearheads joked about "Gore-Doerr in '04." These days he's focused on his funds while continuing to work behind the scenes for education reform--the passion of nearly every executive between San Jose and San Francisco. Four years ago tech executives lobbied for visas for high-tech immigrants; now they are far more likely to export jobs than to import workers. Outsourcing has opened a deep rift in the Valley, where top brass appreciate the cost savings, and midlevel employees dread losing their jobs. The issues, from global warming to stem-cell research and online privacy, are as eclectic as the region itself. A guide to the techno-political elite:

WES BOYD AND JOAN BLADES FOUNDERS, MOVEON.ORG

The husband-and-wife team from Berkeley made their digital fortune as inventors of the "flying toaster" screen saver. But they earned their political stripes as organizers of a rabble-rousing online community of more than 2 million members. Boyd, a programmer, and Blades, an attorney-mediator, launched MoveOn in 1998 during the Clinton impeachment. It started as an e-mail petition among a few hundred friends urging Congress to censure the president for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky and "move on." It quickly became a virtual powerhouse for Democrats and other liberals outraged by the 2000 presidential election and the policies of the --Bush administration. MoveOn members turned out millions to protest the war against Iraq and were among the first to flock to Howard Dean. Despite Dean's implosion, says Boyd, his campaign did "dramatically change the dynamics of the election" and established the Internet as a two-way political medium. "The old model, whether direct mail or TV, is about broadcasting, telling people what you want them to think," says Boyd. "The Internet gives constituents a chance to tell the candidates what they really care about."

GREGORY SLAYTON MANAGING DIRECTOR, SLAYTON CAPITAL

Loyal Republicans who raise $200,000 for the Bush campaign are designated "Rangers." By those standards, the frenetic Slayton, 44, is the Valley's Power Ranger. The online-marketing entrepreneur and venture capitalist has raised nearly $1 million for the president's re-election and recently popped up wearing his trademark baseball cap at three presidential fund-raisers in a single week. If you are a Republican candidate looking for help in the Valley, Slayton is the man to see. "He can fill a table with donors faster than anyone you've ever seen," says one GOP operative.

Marc Andreessen C0FOUNDER, OPSWARE

The original golden boy of the New Economy, Andreessen became famous--and very rich--for inventing the commercial Internet browser at the ripe old age of 22. …

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